52 missing feared dead in Afghanistan landslide: officials

KABUL (AFP) - At least 52 people are missing, feared dead after a landslide swept through a village in Afghanistan's remote mountainous northeast on Tuesday, officials said.

At least 25 women and 22 children are among those missing in the landslide in Khwahan district of Badakhshan province, deputy provincial governor Gul Mohammad Beidar said.

"We have asked Kabul for help and they have said they are sending two helicopters to assist with the rescue operations," Beidar told AFP.

"This is a remote area on the border with Tajikistan and the road to this district remains closed for six months of the year," he added, highlighting the challenges facing the relief effort.

Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, the police spokesman of Badakhshan, confirmed the toll.

"Initial information shows 100 houses have been destroyed in the landslide and 52 people are missing," Ahmadzai told AFP.

Flooding and landslides often occur during the spring rainy season in northern Afghanistan, with flimsy mud houses offering little protection against rising water levels and torrents of mud.

In May last year a landslide triggered by heavy rains buried a village in a remote area of Badakhshan, killing at least 300 people. The disaster left hundreds of families homeless in Argu district of the mountainous province which borders Tajikistan, China and Pakistan.

And last June flash floods killed around 80 people in a remote mountainous district of neighbouring Baghlan province after heavy torrential rains. Severe flooding also affected a vast swathe of Afghanistan last year, particularly northern provinces, leaving 175 people dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Afghanistan is currently in the grip of fierce battles in various provinces between local security forces and the Taliban, which launched its traditional spring offensive last Friday.

The militants have stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets in recent weeks, inflicting a heavy toll on civilians and Afghan security forces.

This year’s Taleban offensive marks the first fighting season in which Afghan forces will battle the insurgents without the full support of US-led foreign combat troops. Nato’s combat mission formally ended in December but a small follow-up foreign force has stayed on to train and support local security personnel.