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Military campaign intensifies, up to a million flee violence

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-05-14

The UN estimated on Wednesday that up to a million people have been displaced by fighting in northwest Pakistan between government forces and the Taliban. It comes a day after Pakistan's President Zardari asked for global aid for refugees.


Pakistan’s military has intensified its offensive against Taliban fighters in the country’s northwest as President Asif Ali Zardari appealed for global help to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, during a meeting with UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

 

On Wednesday the United Nations announced that up to a million people had fled the recent violence in Pakistan.

 

Airstrikes continued to pound militant targets across the Swat valley with hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing the ruthless battle between the military and the Taliban’s efforts to expand their control in the region.

 

Close to 15,000 Pakistani security forces have been deployed to fight 4,000 well-armed militants in Swat, in what Islamabad says is a battle to “eliminate” Islamist militants.

 

The Pakistani military targeted a new front in Swat's northern mountains, suspected stronghold of firebrand Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah and top aides.

 

“All of the available troops in the Pakistani army, including border guards, have been mobilised to fight in the Swat,” said FRANCE 24’s Matthieu Mabin in Islamabad. “Today the army’s efforts are centred on Mingora, where it seems some Taliban leaders have been circled,” he said.

 

Military sources says 751 militants and 29 troops have been killed in its operations in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat, although there is no independent confirmation of the figures.


Refugee crisis

 

Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Kayani ordered "precision strikes" in a bid to minimise civilian casualties.

 

Tens of thousands of terrified civilians have been streaming out of three battle-torn northwest districts each day, with the UN refugee agency saying that 501,496 stranded people had registered with authorities since May 2.

 

"We're appealing to the world, myself and the (UN) secretary general... to draw attention on the human catastrophe that is taking place," Pakistan’s president told reporters on Tuesday.

 

"They (civilians) are losing their crops, they're losing their earnings, their livelihood and their homes, so we want the world to help us," he added.

 

"I expressed my deep concern and I expect President Zardari to take all necessary care to protect the civilian population," UN Ban Ki-moon said. "The UN is ready to stand by to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance."

 

The UN chief said he asked the Pakistani leader "to facilitate the smooth delivery of humanitarian assistance and the protection of humanitarian workers," adding "it is a very serious situation."

 

Even before the latest fighting, the United Nations was dealing with about half a million displaced people in Pakistan.

 

Moderate clerics are also mobilising support for the government’s military campaign, fearing that militants could take over the country.


The Pakistani military’s massive offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat valley began last week after the Taliban tried to capitalise on a February peace pact by pushing out of the valley to conquer new districts.
 


Date created : 2009-05-13

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