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Armed guard for Afghan aid corps


OXFAM ENGINEERS in Pakistan were this week working under armed guard to provide food, shelter and water for at least 250,000 expected Afghan refugees fleeing American bombing.

Anti-American feelings in the Afghan border region are so strong that Western aid engineers risk being attacked if they try to work in some areas without military or police protection.

Fears for the safety of West - erners is also forcing the agency to rely on local staff to set up refugee camps with basic water and sanitation facil - ities.

'Normal practice is thrown out of the window this time.

This is a special case in every way, ' said Oxfam humanitarian department technical coordinator, Paul Sherlock.

Pakistan is imposing tough restrictions on the location and size of camps, said Sherlock.

Camps are expected to become overcrowded as a result.

Sherlock was speaking after returning from a recent intelli - gence gathering visit to the Baluchistan region in south west Pakistan which is expected to bear the brunt of the refugee crisis if the war in Afghanistan continues. Oxfam has launched a £5M programme to set up tented camps for refugees there.

Campsites chosen by the Pakistani government, each of which is expected to take around 10,000 people, are likely to be wire fenced.

Security risks have been so high in Baluchistan that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) medical staff have been withdrawn to the city of Quetta.

Before the New York terrorist attacks on September 11, risks of attacks on Western aid workers were already high and have increased since .

There are three expatriate engineers still in the Baluchis - tan city of Quetta, two of whom are members of engineering aid charity RedR. They will stay as long as it is considered safe.

Work will initially involve distributing imported food and setting up water supplies for camps which are expected to house refugees.

Water is to be brought into the camps by truck, but if they become more permanent, a local water supply fed by boreholes - some as deep as 400m - will have to be developed.

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