A UN refugee agency spokesperson said more than 360,000 people have fled regions of heavy fighting between the government and Taliban fighters in northwest Pakistan.
AFP - At least 360,000 people have fled heavy fighting in northwest Pakistan in little over a week and registered with authorities, officials said Monday.
A spokeswoman for UN refugee agency UNHCR told AFP: "360,600 individuals registered in camps and outside camps as part of a new influx from Swat, Buner and Lower Dir" since May 2.
Government air and ground forces launched a military offensive against Taliban fighters in the district of Lower Dir on April 26 and in neighbouring Buner on April 28.
Heavy clashes broke out in Swat, another neighbouring northwest district, between security forces and Taliban militants on May 6.
On May 8, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the military had been ordered to eliminate militants, which prompted a further civilian exodus.
Ariane Rummery, the UNHCR spokeswoman, said the provincial government in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), with the help of UNHCR, had set up 29 registration points for the displaced, mostly in the towns of Mardan and Swabi.
"Less than 20 percent are staying in camps, while 80 percent are staying outside camps," Rummery told AFP.
A local Pakistani government official working at the emergency response unit in Peshawar, the capital of NWFP, said half a million had fled "since the offensives" but was not able to provide a clear date.
Pakistani security forces have conducted operations against militants in parts of NWFP over the past two years, on top of six years of battles in the surrounding semi-autonomous tribal belt on the border with Afghanistan.
"The number of internally displaced people are more than 500,000 while those registered in camps are 278,000 at Peshawar, Mardan and Swabi," Abid Majeed an official at the emergency response unit at Peshawar told AFP.
He said most of the displaced prefer to live with relatives or rent homes, than stay in camps.
Local officials said more than 100,000 people on Sunday alone fled Swat, which has sunk from popular ski resort to a Taliban bastion ripped apart by insurgency to enforce sharia law.
"I am not in a position to give exact figure of the internally displaced persons as we are in the process of putting together the information that our staff is collecting," said Swat administration official, Khushhal Khan.
Date created : 2009-05-11