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Afghans enduring horrors

JALOZAI REFUGEE CAMP, Pakistan (AP) — Two-year-old Rahullah lies still and feverish on a filthy pillow inside a tent made from plastic bags. His sister, 3-year-old Rakiba, is howling inconsolably.

It's malaria, says their mother, Mattou Razaq. "I have no medicines for them. Look at him — he doesn't move. I am afraid he will die. Maybe he is the lucky one."

Razaq and her family are among 80,000 people packed into Jalozai camp, a sunbaked dustbowl with open sewers, filthy water and thousands of tents. The fortunate ones have tents made of plastic sheets, but most families are living — 10 or 12 to the tent — under plastic bags stitched together and slung over poles.

The camp's residents are refugees from Afghanistan, part of a flight of some 200,000 people into Pakistan that United Nations officials say has developed into a crisis since it began last September. This weekend, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is coming for an inspection tour on his first visit to Pakistan.

Yusuf Hassan, from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office in Pakistan, said Annan will visit Jalozai and the nearby, better-equipped Shamshatoo camp. Officials initially were reluctant for him to visit Jalozai, fearing he would be mobbed by Afghans growing more desperate as conditions deteriorate.

Without help, "Jalozai will become a death camp" in another two months when temperatures climb near 100 degrees, Hassan said. Communicable diseases could run rampant, spreading from open sewers that breed mosquitoes, he said.

"The conditions are desperate," he said. "It is getting worse ... and every day there are more people coming."

U.N. officials here are expected to press Annan to plead with Pakistan's government to provide land to house the thousands now in Jalozai Camp in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, nine miles east of Peshawar, the provincial capital, which borders Afghanistan.

"The really sad thing is that we have the resources to help every one of them," Hassan said, adding that what blocks the assistance is Pakistan's refusal to let the refugees be registered as such by the United Nations and relocated to better camps.

Pakistan says it is already burdened by 1.2 million Afghan refugees in camps; many have been here since the 1980s Soviet invasion of their homeland and none get U.N. assistance. A poor country itself, Pakistan fears it would be responsible for the new refugees after the initial emergency passes and U.N. money runs out.

Erick de Mul, the U.N. coordinator for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, says he understand Pakistan's concern, but that fleeing Afghans will continue to die unless they get help.

The refugees in Pakistan are part of a larger problem. Some 80,000 refugees live in camps in Afghanistan's western Herat province, and another 10,000 are stranded on the northern border with Tajikistan, refused entry by Tajik authorities.

The Afghans are fleeing their country's worst drought in 30 years, a long-running civil war and a shattered economy made worse by the ruling Taliban militia's year-old edict banning the cultivation of poppies — the source of opium and heroin but also the nation's only cash crop.

The U.N. Drug Program says the Taliban's edict has virtually wiped out the poppy crop in Afghanistan, once the world's biggest opium producer. While the edict is pleasing to Western nations fighting drug problems, de Mul says it has sent thousands fleeing to Pakistan.

Pakistan has tried to stop the flow since late last year, sealing its gates to all but those with Pakistani visas and passports, a rarity in Afghanistan. Before then, the border was completely open.

At a border post below the famed Khyber Pass, bearded Taliban soldiers beat back would-be refugees with wooden sticks. Those who manage to cross the border must elude Pakistani soldiers. Some get through, but most are pushed back across the border.

Of those who make it, the most desperate wind up in the Jalozai camp. Dozens of families came just this week, most from northern Baghlan province, driven from their homes by battles between the Taliban and opposition forces led by ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani.

"I hate them both. They are the ones who have killed us," Mrs. Razaq, the mother of the malaria-stricken children, said of the opposing forces.

In a nearby tent, Ghorban Gul, a widow with seven children, wept as she tried to explain the horror of her life. She lifted her baggy pants to show badly bruised and cut knees.

"I fell crossing the mountains," she said. She grabbed the hand of her young son and pulled up his shirt to show a stomach swollen with hunger.

"How can we live like this?" she asked. "We will all die. I pray sometimes that will happen."