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AFGHANISTAN: Civilians flee as NATO-Afghan forces fight insurgents in Kandahar

KABUL, 1 November 2007 (IRIN) - Civilians are fleeing two districts in the southern province of Kandahar as NATO and Afghan forces battle Taliban insurgents who have moved into the area, according to local residents and provincial officials.

“Hundreds of people have already swarmed into Kandahar city, leaving their homes and livelihoods in Arghandab and Shah Wali Kot districts,” Najib Barithi, provincial head of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), told IRIN from Kandahar city on 1 November 2007.

Many displaced families have sought temporary refuge with relatives while others have set up tents around Kandahar city, Barithi added.

Officials called an emergency meeting on 31 October to organise a humanitarian response after displaced families approached the ARCS office and other government bodies for assistance, said Ahmad Wali Karzai, chairman of the provincial council.

A rapid assessment will be conducted in the coming days to determine urgent needs and help aid organisations to respond, officials said.

Possible crisis

Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) already live in several camps in Kandahar province. However, aid workers warn that a dramatic increase in the number of IDPs would escalate needs beyond the capacity of the province and contribute to a possible humanitarian crisis in Kandahar and surrounding areas.

Barithi said: “We only have limited resources in Kandahar province which are not sufficient to meet the increasing needs.”

Saeed Aqa Saqib, the police chief in Kandahar, said ongoing military operations in Arghandab district would be completed shortly. “Within two to three days the operation will conclude and we will encourage people to return to their homes,” he told IRIN.

Arghandab district, about 30km northwest of Kandahar city, is a lush agricultural area, with pomegranate trees a major income source. But Arghandab’s farmers are worried because the conflict coincides with their annual harvest season and the fighting has damaged pomegranate plantations.

Rising death toll

Intensifying armed conflict in south, southeast and southwestern Afghanistan has not only adversely affected civilians but also complicated humanitarian access and response, according to the UN and international aid organisations.

At least 250 people - mainly Taliban insurgents but also Afghan government forces and civilians - have reportedly been killed in insurgency and counter-insurgency-related violence in different parts of the country in October alone.

According to
a tally by Associated Press, more than 5,500 people have died this year in Afghanistan, where violence has risen 30 percent against 2006, the UN Secretary-General reported in September.

As a result, about 100,000 people have been displaced in several volatile provinces in Afghanistan, UN officials estimate.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2007

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