1.3 million refugees flee northwestern Pakistan to escape fighting

May 12th, 2009 - 9:58 pm ICT by ANI  

Taliban Mardan, May 12 (ANI): The number of refugees fleeing from the Sawt Valley in northwestern Pakistan lifted to 1.3 million people after the Pakistani Army dropped commandos behind Taliban lines to end their resistance.

The army offensive has also unleashed a tide of refugees, whose plight could sap public support for the kind of sustained action against an increasingly interlinked array of Islamist extremists that the cash-strapped Pakistan’s Western backers want to see.

Including some half-million who fled fighting in the Bajur border region last year, an army officer said on Tuesday that the total number displaced in the northwest had risen to 1.3 million, The News reported.

The UN has registered 360,000 refugees from the latest fighting. About 30,000 are living in hot, tented camps established just south of the war zone.

Choppers inserted troops into the remote Peochar area in the upper reaches of the Swat Valley, a Pakistani Army statement said.

Officials identified it as the rear-base of an estimated 4,000 Taliban militants also entrenched in Swat’s main towns. It is seen as possible hiding place of Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah.

A military spokesman declined to give details of the Peochar assault, but a senior government official expressed optimism that the battle for Swat might prove short.

“The way they (militants) are being beaten, the way their recruits are fleeing, and the way the Pakistan army is using its strategy, God willing the operation will be completed very soon,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

Pakistani authorities launched a full-scale assault on Swat and surrounding districts last week after the Taliban pushed out from the valley on the back of a now-defunct peace deal and extended their control to areas just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.

The military response has won praise from American officials, who insist Islamabad must eliminate safe havens used by militants to undermine the pro-Western governments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. (ANI)

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