PIR ALIZAI CAMP, Pakistan, May 16 (Reuters) - At least two people were killed and five wounded on Wednesday in an exchange of fire between Pakistani security forces and Afghan refugees in southwestern Pakistan, police said.
Both sides blamed each other for initiating the fire in Pir Alizai, one of the oldest camps set up for Afghan refugees after the Soviet invasion in 1979, which the Pakistani authorities plan to shut down by next month.
"The police and paramilitary soldiers went there to supervise demolition of abandoned houses. All of a sudden a few people came out of the camp and started firing," Naseebullah Ghilzai, local police chief told Reuters.
But refugee, Abdul Shakoor, gave a different version.
"They started demolishing our houses without any reason. When we resisted, they opened fire on us.
Ghilzai said two people were killed in the attack while a doctor running a private clinic near the camp said he had seen three bodies.
The slain men were local residents, officials said.
Witnesses said hundreds of refugees, shouting slogans against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, blocked the road linking Quetta, capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan, and the border town of Chaman to protest against the demolition.
Pir Alizai, a sprawling settlement of mud houses for about 150,000 refugees, is one of two camps Pakistani authorities plan to wind up by June 15. Two more will be closed later this year.
Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghans for more than a quarter century but is now pushing for the closure of camps after complaints from Western and Afghan officials that Taliban militants launch cross-border attacks from their bases on Pakistani soil.
Authorities say these camps, mainly in Baluchistan, have turned into safe havens for the Taliban.
Pakistani cabinet last week approved a plan for a voluntary and gradual repatriation of around 2.5 million refugees in next three years in line with an agreement signed with Afghanistan and the U.N. refugee agency in 2003.
LACK OF SECURITY
Observers say it is an uphill task for Pakistan to persuade Afghans to return to their country because of lack of security in their country and also because a large number of them have established businesses in cities.
They have set up showrooms for traditional, hand-woven Afghan rugs in posh neighbourhoods and they also run hotels and restaurants.
Afghanistan has struggled to cope with the return of more than 4.6 million refugees since the Taliban were overthrown.
Aid officials say the country would be overwhelmed if Pakistan sent refugees in large numbers as was being done by neighbouring Iran.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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