May 16, 2007 / 11:11 AM / 10 years ago

Two killed in Pakistan forces, Afghan refugees clash

PIR ALIZAI CAMP, Pakistan (Reuters) - At least two people were killed and five wounded on Wednesday in an exchange of fire between Pakistani security forces and Afghan refugees in southwestern Pakistan, police said.

Both sides blamed each other for initiating the fire in Pir Alizai, one of the oldest camps set up for Afghan refugees in Pakistani border areas after Soviet invasion of their homeland in 1979.

"The police and paramilitary soldiers went there to supervise demolition of abandoned houses. All of a sudden few people came out of the camp and started firing," Naseebullah Ghilzai, local police chief told Reuters.

But refugee, Abdul Shakoor, gave a different version.

"They started demolishing our houses without any reason. When we resisted, they opened fire on us.

Ghilzai said two people were killed in the attack while a doctor running a private clinic near the camp said he had seen three bodies.

The slain men were local residents, officials said.

Witnesses said hundreds of refugees shouting slogans against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf blocked the road linking Quetta, capital of southwestern city of Quetta, and border town of Chaman as security forces bulldozed abandoned houses in the camp.

Pir Alizai, a sprawling settlement of mud houses for about 150,000 refugees settlement, is one of the two camps Pakistani authorities plan to wind up by June 15. Two more will be closed later this year.

Pakistan has been hosting millions of Afghans for more than a quarter century but is now pushing for the closure of refugee camps after growing complaints from Western and Afghan officials that Taliban militants launch cross-border attacks from their bases on Pakistani soil.

Authorities say these camps, mainly in Baluchistan, have turned into safe havens for the Taliban.

Pakistani cabinet last week approved a plan for a voluntary and gradual repatriation of around 2.5 million refugees in next three years in line with an agreement signed with Afghanistan and U.N. refugee agency in 2003.

LACK OF SECURITY

Observers say it is an uphill task for Pakistan to persuade Afghans to return to their country because of lack of security in their country and also because a large number of them are making money from businesses in cities.

They have set up showrooms for traditional, hand-woven Afghan rugs in posh neighborhoods in the cities and they are also run hotels and restaurants.

Afghanistan has struggled to cope with the return of more than 4.6 million refugees since the Taliban were overthrown.

Aid officials say the war-ravaged Afghanistan would be overwhelmed if Pakistan sent refugees in large numbers as being done by neighboring Iran.

The U.N. and the Afghan government on Tuesday said Iran has forced 44,000 Afghans home in recent weeks, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis.

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