Afghan refugees fear death at hands of Taliban
LALA GUZAR CAMP, Afghanistan, July 15 (AFP) - Ten months ago they saw their children and neighbours executed in cold blood as the fundamentalist Taliban rampaged through their town.
Now, stranded in a squalid refugee camp just within safety in opposition controlled territory, Afghans who fled scenes of massacre last September in the northeastern Takhar province are in fear of their lives once again.
Abdullah Khan, a farmer with a family of ten, kept his wife and children protectively around him as he relived the day the hardline religious militia's troops swept through Khwaja Ghar like a horde of locusts.
"They bombarded a girls' school and then sprayed petrol on it and burnt the building down. A lot of the girls died," he said.
As he and his family escaped from the carnage, crossing the Kokcha river on a makeshift raft, they nearly capsized under a hail of aircraft fire and his three-year-old daughter fell into the water, drowning in the fast current.
"We are very afraid of the Taliban, if they capture this area we prefer to drown ourselves than to fall into their hands," Khan said.
In control of 90 percent of Afghan territory, the ruling Taliban wants to drive on through Takhar towards neighbouring Badakhshan, the last province held completely by opposition forces loyal to ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Over 400 residents of Khwaja Ghar, which had a population of 7,000 mainly ethnic Uzbek farmers, have sought refuge in this small camp some 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the frontline.
Kneeling on the floor of her tent, Tutenisa Sanchal said she had seen her 25-year-old daughter killed in front of her eyes while the Taliban dragged away her son, a cleric aged 31 who has since disappeared without a trace.
"When the Taliban entered my house, they took my daughter. They wanted a new victim. They shot her dead with a Kalashnikov and one of her two sons, and then they poured petrol on her and burnt her," she said in an emotionless voice.
But then tears came to her eyes as the mother of seven added: "A relative told me a few days later that he saw a dog eating her remains. "I also saw them cut the head off of one of my neighbours, Werel Kampin, a preacher, and put someone else's head in its place," the woman continued with a shudder.
Several witnesses described how one family of nearly 15, Abdullah Qosim, his wife Najiba and their children, all died when a group of Taliban burst into their house, herded them together and let loose a hail of bullets.
Jamakhar, 25, said the Taliban rounded him up among some 100 civilians, including old people and women, and shoved them all together in the back of a truck. Half of them died from suffocation on the journey to a prison in Kunduz, 40 kilometres (25 miles) away, and only 10 survived their incarceration, according to his account.
But the threat of death in the refugee camp does not come from the Taliban alone. Starved of humanitarian aid, tens of thousands of refugees who fled to opposition areas last September when the Islamic movement overran Takhar's provincial capital, Taloqan, are struggling to survive.
"We are calling on international aid agencies to help us, otherwise there will be a calamity, scores of people will die in the refugee camps and diseases will spread," the Afghan opposition's top health official, Doctor Said Kamel, said.
With malaria and dysentery endemic, the risk was now of a cholera outbreak, he warned.
Yet the refugees themselves, some of whom have already begun dying from malnutrition and poor sanitation, would put up with anything rather than face the extremist religious militia again.
"The conditions are very bad, but we prefer to die here than live under the Taliban. They are genocidal," said the woman who lost a son, daughter and grandson.
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