Afghan refugees ordered out of a Pakistani war zone have begun flowing over the border into their homeland, worsening a humanitarian crisis resulting from an army offencive against Taliban militants, officials said.
Pakistan has told 50,000 Afghans to leave the Bajur tribal region, accusing them of links to militants that used the remote and impoverished area as a base for attacks on both sides of the frontier.
Bacha Khan, a police official at the Toorwandi border post in Bajur, told The Associated Press yesterday that some refugees have crossed into Afghanistan and others moved to other parts of Pakistan.
US officials concerned about the escalating insurgency in Afghanistan have praised the military operation in a region that has been touted as a possible hiding place for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan's army claims to have killed more than 1,000 insurgents in two months of fighting. It has given no figure for civilian casualties, but acknowledges that many villages have been devastated by airstrikes, artillery fire and gunbattles.
Khan had no figures for how many Afghans have left since officials distributed leaflets in Bajur last week telling them to go.
However, he said an estimated 20,000 refugees had returned home in recent weeks. Thousands more went to other parts of Pakistan, he said.
An Afghan community leader in Khar, Bajur's main town, urged the government to provide transportation for the refugees. "We are poor people, and we don't have enough money to pay for the buses," Ghulam Jan told an AP reporter.