By Mirwais Harooni
AAB BAREEK, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan police fired gunshots into the air on Tuesday to disperse villagers who fought police and aid workers distributing emergency supplies near the remote site of a deadly landslide, witnesses said.
Aid agencies have rushed tons of supplies to more than 4,000 displaced by the landslide in Aab Bareek, a village in the Argo district of Badakhshan in the northeast of the country, that was partially destroyed when the side of mountain collapsed on Friday.
Tensions have been running high in the area, as victims say emergency supplies are not arriving fast enough. Compounding the difficulties, residents of neighboring poor villages have walked to the refugee centre in a bid to get food and other rations.
The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration said distribution of aid had been halted due to the shooting and insecurity.
About 100 Afghan soldiers aboard a convoy of vehicles were seen headed for the district on Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday's violence started when dozens of people tried to board an aid truck, and then attacked two police officers who attempted to restore calm, a Reuters witness said.
A further eight police joined their colleagues, beating the villagers back with the butts of their rifles.
"Up to 80 people on a nearby hill pelted the police with stones and the police fired into the air for about a minute," the witness said.
In a tense standoff, a man armed with a pistol approached the aid truck. "Four police were pointing their AK47s at him, and one rushed at him and twisted his arm and grabbed his gun," the witness said.
After decades of conflict, guns are commonplace in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of villagers were buried in up to 50 meters of mud and debris on Friday in the worst natural disaster to hit the country in a decade.
The landslide, triggered by heavy rain, comes as about a third of the country has been inundated by floodwaters. The United Nations said on Tuesday the number of people affected across the northern provinces had risen to about 75,000.
Afghanistan is extremely vulnerable to recurring natural disasters due to its geography and years of environmental degradation.
The United States and NATO-led coalition troops battling Taliban insurgents have offered assistance, but the Afghan government says it can manage on its own.
Relations between Kabul and Washington are at an all-time low over President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign a security agreement allowing a small U.S. force to remain in the country at the end of the year.
Twelve years after U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan to drive the Islamist Taliban insurgents from power, foreign combat troops will withdraw on December 31, leaving security in Afghan hands.
The United States wants to keep a force of less than 10,000 troops there for counter-insurgency and training purposes.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Nick Macfie)