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IRAQ: Displaced villagers in north face harsh conditions

ARBIL, 20 Sep 2006 (IRIN) - Humanitarian organisations and local authorities in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region have expressed concerns over the living conditions of more than 900 families who have been displaced from their villages on the border strip between Iran and Iraq as a result of heavy artillery shelling by Iranian forces.

"The situation has not yet reached the level of disaster," said Jalal Mahmoud Saeed, the head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society's office in the northeastern province of Sulaimaniya. "But if the bombardments continue in future, it may reach disaster level."

Since last May, parts of Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq have been the targets of sporadic bombardments by Iranian and Turkish armies, for the alleged presence of Kurdish rebels there.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its affiliated Kurdistan Freedom Life Party (PEJAK) have bases inside Iraq's soil and fight for autonomy for the Kurdish population in Turkey and Iran respectively.

According to figures by local authorities, at least three people were killed in recent bombardments and 20 others injured. This has forced many civilians out of their homes to live with friends and family in the nearby towns of Raniya and Qaladize.

At least 23 villages have been abandoned, local authorities say.

"The living conditions of these displaced people are really bad," said Ali Hamad Waso, the mayor of Raniya, adding that local authorities could not cope with such a large scale displacement of people.

"Many of these people have not been able to take their cattle and home furniture with them and have no income source or medical facilities here," he added. "Their living conditions will further deteriorate as they will have to stay here for winter with limited facilities and income."

The villagers are afraid to return home because if the shelling resumes during winter, harsh weather conditions will make it harder for them to flee.

Displaced villagers complain that so far no-one is helping them.

"We haven't seen any help from any side, neither humanitarian organisations nor the government," said Wasu Bapir Mahmoud, 66, a father of four who abandoned his village of Sharushian after it was heavily pounded twice by cannon fire. Several houses in that village were damaged and acres of agricultural land with crops were burned, he said.

"We have left everything behind and our life is very hard here," said Mahmoud, who now lives in a relative's house in the Chwar Qurna district, near Raniya. "We wish we could return to our village soon and resume our lives."

... Payvand News - 9/21/06 ... --

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