Though Tajikistan is torn by civil war, thousands of people from neighboring Afghanistan are seeking refuge in the former Soviet Central Asian republic.
For many Afghans, Tajikistan represents the lesser of two evils in comparison with their strife-torn homeland. Tajik leaders and Russian border guards, however, are trying to keep Afghans out, calling them a threat to stability.
"We don't need the [Afghan] refugees," says Islamic leader Haji Akbar Turajonzoda, a supporter of the Democratic-Islamic coalition that is battling pro-communist forces for power in Tajikistan.
"Many are former Communists," Mr. Turajonzoda claimed, "and we have enough communists in Tajikistan as it is."
Some Afghan merchants who have settled in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, say some refugee-owned homes have been burned down and some of their compatriots murdered by Tajiks. All declined to give their names, saying that they fear retribution.
Already devastated by a 14-year civil war, Afghanistan has seen an upswing in violence since mujahideen fighters overthrew the Communists in April and established an Islamic government.
Rival groups have turned the Afghan capital, Kabul, into a battleground. Thousands of civilians have been killed in the fighting, and thousands more have fled.
"The bombing in Kabul makes it unsafe and that's why people are going to Tajikistan," says Fazel Akhmed Tugyon, a leader of the Uzbek militia, one of the most powerful groups vying for power in Afghanistan.
"The refugees are mostly simple people who aren't interested much in politics," Mr. Tugyon insists.
Of late, the Tajik government has taken measures to restrict Afghan immigration, primarily out of concern that some Afghans are engaged in arms smuggling that is fanning the Tajik civil war.
Lt. Col. Romas Jankauskas, deputy to the commander of the Russian border troop contingent in Tajikistan, called the Afghan refugees a security threat to the entire Commonwealth of Independent States, which encompasses Tajikistan, Russia, and 12 other former Soviet republics.
"Afghans are now running around all over the former Soviet Union, and no one really knows what they're up to," Colonel Jankauskas says. "It's possible they're involved in the drug business." -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/92/sep/day30/30112.