Urgent Aid Sought For 250,000 Fleeing Afghans
05:37 a.m. Aug 03, 1999 Eastern
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Opposition leader Ahmad Shah Masood Tuesday urged the world to help a quarter of a million Afghans he said had fled Taliban troops closing in on his Panjsher valley bastion.
``Around 250,000 civilians have come to Panjsher because of the fighting. They have no shelter and food. We appeal for urgent international aid for these people,'' Dr Abdullah, Masood's chief spokesman, told Reuters in Islamabad.
Abdullah said most of those displaced by the first major Taliban offensive in 10 months were ethnic Tajiks fearing reprisals at the hand of the Islamic militia, which draws support from the majority Pashtun ethnic group.
There was no independent confirmation of Abdullah's figures but reporters who visited Charikar and nearby villages which fell to the Taliban Monday said they were deserted.
``The future of these displaced is unknown. They are exposed to any type of disease and hunger,'' Abdullah said, accusing the Taliban of unspecified ``brutal acts'' in their advance.
His statement followed a warning by the London-based human rights group Amnesty International last week that thousands of civilians were at risk in the Taliban drive to crush Masood, their last major foe after three years of factional fighting.
It said: ``Taliban and the anti-Taliban forces have committed gross human rights abuses against civilians in the past. What guarantees are there they will spare civilians this time?''
Abdullah's appeal was issued as the Taliban pushed further into opposition territory and captured Gulbahar, Masood's second most important bastion after the Panjsher valley.
Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), an independent news agency, quoted Taliban Information Minister Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi as saying the town was captured Monday evening.
Muttaqi said Gulbahar was the headquarters of Abdurrab Rasool Sayyaf, an top ally of Masood.
AIP said the Taliban had launched a clean-up operation in the area and the Taliban had extended its control more than 80 km (50 miles) north of Kabul to the edge of the Panjsher Valley.
It said that Taliban forces had occupied the town of Shir Khan Bandar on the border of Tajikistan, overcoming strong resistance from opposition forces.
AIP said after Taliban occupation of Shir Khan, fighting might intensify on the Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan fronts, areas of northeastern Afghanistan where Masood has control.
The fall of Charikar, 35 miles north of Kabul, gave the Taliban control of the Shomali region and pushed back front lines from Kabul which had allowed Masood to fire rockets on the capital for the past three years.
The end of the rocket attacks allowed the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross to resume aid flights to Kabul where they tend hundreds of thousands of people impoverished by a 20-year cycle of factional bloodshed.
The Taliban mounted the offensive days after the end of inconclusive U.N.-backed peace talks. The Taliban say Masood should surrender and join their administration but Masood wants an interim government grouping all factions and ethnic groups.
The Taliban want control of all of Afghanistan to back their claim as the legitimate government. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates now recognize the Taliban.
The international community has withheld recognition, preferring a broad-based government of all factions and ethnic groups to end the cycle of one group dominating the other.
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