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Pashtuns face persecution in western region

Pashtun families are increasingly being forced out of their homes under threat in the northwestern Afghan province of Faryab, an aid worker told IRIN on Friday. "Over the past three months, we have worked with 2,000 displaced Pashtun people in Badghis, who had left their homes in Faryab in fear of persecution," the country representative for Afghanistan for the UK-based NGO Ockenden International, Ajmal Shirzai, told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. "Between five and 10 families are arriving from Faryab every day," he added, saying that many of them feared that they would not be able to return to their homes in the near future. Ethnic tensions are running high in Afghanistan, following the fall last November of the brutal Taliban regime, whose members were primarily from the Pashtun tribe. On Thursday, a report published by the US-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) called for the protection of Pashtuns in Afghanistan's western provinces. According to a study conducted by the group at the Shaidayee displaced persons camp in Herat Province, members of the ethnic group were being targeted. "The attacks include killings, beatings, looting and sexual assault," a statement released by PHR said. "The International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] and the international community, especially the United States, must ensure that the Pashtun population of Afghanistan, and indeed all Afghan civilians, are protected from abuse," said Leonard S. Rubenstein, the executive director of PHR. While reports of persecution against this ethnic group in northern Afghanistan have been rife, particularly in the city of Mazar-e Sharif, this is the first time it has been documented in the western region. The PHR study said a massive influx of displaced people had fled the western provinces of Ghowr, Badghis, Faryab and the northern Balkh Province, all bound for the Shaidayee camp, located outside Herat city. Of the 509 random households interviewed, most of them ethnic Pashtuns, eight percent reported one or more cases of abuse. "They [ethnic Uzbek forces] wanted to take our sheep. I brought the Koran and said, 'O.K., take the sheep, but do not kill my husband.' They pushed [aside] the holy Koran, took the sheep and shot my husband," one interviewee told PHR researchers in Afghanistan. "PHR cannot support sending people back to their communities when the necessary security requirements are not in place," Rubenstein maintained. The human rights group also expressed concern over the suspension of the International Organisation for Migration's (IOM) activities in the camp, due to lack of funding. IOM had been the main provider of food and humanitarian assistance there. Meanwhile, according to the UN, security in northern Afghanistan remains fragile, particularly in the district of Sholgareh in the Balkh Province and the northern province of Sar-e Pol. Earlier this week, in a positive move to improve the situation, the most prominent factions in the north including, the ethnic Uzbek warlord General Rashid Dostum, General Atta and representatives of the Hezbi-Wahdat-Akbari and Harakat Islami, signed an agreement on the withdrawal of weapons. As part of the new agreement, a new police force was also established. Efforts to verify the withdrawal of all militia forces would also be made over the weekend, a spokesman for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, told reporters at a news conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Thursday. During a visit to the city on Thursday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the mandate of ISAF should be extended beyond the original six months, ending in June, according to a BBC report. However, he stated that currently the force was too stretched to operate beyond Kabul. "We feel we have reached the limit of capability and are not in a position to expand the area of application beyond Kabul," he said. "His excellency the prime minister and his ministers understand this," he maintained.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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