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‘Thousands flee’ Taliban-held town
BayBak, Azerbaijan | 1496 days ago | Saturday, 16th May , 2009 , 03:13 [am] | International
|.|| Tens of thousands of civilians have fled from a Taliban-occupied town in northwest Pakistan’s Swat valley after the country’s military suspended its curfew, according to officials.
People rushed out of Mingora on Friday after the government relaxed its restrictions around the city and advised
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled from a Taliban-occupied town in northwest Pakistan’s Swat valley after the country’s military suspended its curfew, according to officials.
People rushed out of Mingora on Friday after the government relaxed its restrictions around the city and advised civilians to leave.
“People are leaving in large numbers … They are vacating their homes,” Arsha Khan, a local administration official, said.
Pakistan’s military is pursuing its 20th day of operations against suspected Taliban bases in the districts of Swat, Buner and Lower Dir in the country’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
At least 55 suspected Taliban fighters have been killed in the last 24 hours by government forces in the NWFP, a military statement released on Friday said.
Three soldiers were killed in Taliban counterattacks over the same period, the statement said.
Columns of cars, lorries and horse-drawn carts packed with people and laden with possessions streamed out of Mingora, witnesses said.
“I was waiting for the opportunity to leave Mingora. I got the chance today, and now I am going to Mardan,” Ismail Khan, a Mingora resident, said as his family boarded a bus.
Another resident, who gave his name as Hamid, told the AFP news agency: “My shop was targeted and our own business destroyed. Mortar shells killed three children in front of me. We want a safe place outside Swat.”
With the military stepping up pressure on the Taliban, Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, has described the fighters’ presence in Pakistan’s northwest as a unique situation.
“There’s a threat in Karachi, there’s a threat in Quetta, there’s a threat in Peshawar, there’s a threat in Lahore – there is a threat everywhere. [But] in the settled areas they attack and [then] leave,” he told Al Jazeera’s David Frost.
“Here [in northwest Pakistan] they come because there is no settled police, there is no constant supervision.
“Swat needs much more attention. We have 15,000 settled police in order to hold the place after the battle is over.”
About 4,000 Taliban fighters are believed to be fighting in the region.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation remains grave.
At least 834,000 civilians from the Swat and Buner districts have registered as displaced persons with the United Nations after leaving their homes to escape the fighting.
Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the scale of the refugee crisis is overwhelming.
“Pakistan has no capacity to deal with these people and to provide them with the basic needs they require. The Pakistani people are in need of massive humanitarian support from the international community,” he said from the Swabi refugee camp.
“If you look at the movement [of people from the war zone], it is indeed the biggest movement in present times. Massive humanitarian support is required or else there will be a humanitarian disaster.”
The military onslaught comes after increasing pressure by the US government to take a stronger line against the Taliban.
The US military on Thursday confirmed newspaper reports that it had shared with Islamabad surveillance data from drones flying over Pakistani territory.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, said at a US senate hearing that Pakistan had requested surveillance support missions up until April.
“In terms of support and information, they have asked for that, and where they have asked for that, we’ve supported them,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Those requests have ceased over the period of about the last month.”
The New York Times had earlier reported that the US military had shared intelligence data from drones with the Pakistani military.
Mullen said the newspaper report was an “accurate portrayal” of co-operation between Washington and Islamabad.
But the Pakistani military has strongly denied that it is co-operating with US forces in the deployment of the drones.
“In terms of Pakistani control of or liaison with those drones, the Pakistani military is absolutely adamant – they are operating completely by themselves in this campaign [against the Taliban] and are receiving no help from any outside force,” Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Islamabad, said.
“There appears to be a very keen realisation, by the military in particular, that this [current] campaign is dependent on public support, and of ongoing political support within this [country's] divided political nexus.”
Bombs launched from drones have been responsible for the deaths of at least 390 people in Pakistan, many of them civilians, since August 2008.aljazeera, Voice of a Nation