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    Houses of illegal Afghans razed in Khyber

    ISLAMABAD (PAN): Nearly 900 houses of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's lawless tribal region of Khyber, near the Afghanistan border, have been demolished, officials said on Friday.

    The Khyber political administration had warned Afghans living illegally in the Lawargi area three weeks ago to vacate their houses; otherwise their residences would be razed to the ground.

    Local officials say criminals involved in terrorist activities, including attacks on trucks carrying fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan, were living among the refugees.

    A government official in the region, Muhammad Iqbal Khattak, said so far 900 houses of illegal refugees had been demolished. The Afghans did not heed the warning they were issued three weeks before demolition of their houses in Bacha Mena, Abdul Khad, Gagra and Sadokhel areas started, he added.

    One of the refugees, Latif Shinwari, said 90 percent of Afghans had vacated their houses before they were razed. Many families left the area in compliance with the notice, but others saw their homes destroyed, he continued.

    Shinwari complained the Afghans having refugee registration cards had also been rendered homeless.

    Political administration official Ziarat Khan rejected the claim they had evicted legal Afghans from the region. He explained the houses of refugees with no legal documents were pulled down.

    He said most of the Afghans had businesses in Jamrud, Lawargi and Torkham, but they had nothing to do with their businesses. Khan said a new operation would be launched soon against the Afghans running businesses illegally on this side of the border.

    A spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Qaisar Khan Afridi, said they had talked to local officials about the problems of refugees in Lawargi. He added the officials had assured them that no legal Afghan would be evicted.

    Afghan Consul General in Peshawar Saleh Muhammad Sherzai also said they were in contact with Pakistani authorities regarding the eviction of Afghans.

    He said Pakistan had promised not to demolish the houses of Afghans. "We have not yet received any complaint from an Afghan that his house has been destroyed."

    There are 6,300 registered Afghan refugees in Khyber, with 5,728 living in Jamrud, 400 in Bara and 100 in Landikotal. However, thousands of illegal refugees are also living in the region.

    ma/mud