Refugees from northwest can settle anywhere in Pakistan: PM

May 26th, 2009 - 9:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 26 (IANS) Millions of refugees who have fled Pakistan’s restive northwest following the military’s anti-Taliban operations can settle anywhere in the country, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilnai declared here Tuesday.
“They are Pakistanis. They can go to any part of the country,” Gilani told reporters here.

“Every citizen is free to move anywhere in the country,” the prime minister maintained, adding: “No restriction can be placed on the movement of displaced persons within the country.”

The military operations in the Swat, Buner and Lower Dir districts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) that began April 26 have triggered the largest and swiftest refugee exodus anywhere in the world in recent times, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says.

The social welfare department of the NWFP government says it has registered 1.45 million refugees at its 22 relief camps but the UN estimates that the actual number could be as high as 2.9 million as many of the displaced persons could be staying with friends and relatives.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who met some of displaced people during a three-day visit to Pakistan earlier this month, has called for urgent and massive international help from governments and other donors for those left homeless by fighting.

The UN office in Islamabad said Friday $543 million would be required for the rehabilitation of the displaced people. A day earlier, Pakistan had won pledges of $244 million at a donors conference in Islamabad.

On Tuesday, Gilani declared the entire Malakand division of the NWFP - that comprises Swat, Buner and Lower Dir and four other districts - a calamity-hit area and exempted it from paying agricultural taxes.

Addressing a gathering of agriculturists and farmers here, Gilani said the government would look after the crops of the displaced people by arranging for their harvest and supply to the market, APP reported.

The people of Malakand had been forced to leave their homes due to the presence of the militants but the government would ensure the crops did not go waste, the prime minister said.

“They (the displaced persons) have sacrificed their todays for our tomorrows. Their sacrifice should be valued,” Gilani added.

The Pakistani military went into action after the Taliban violated a controversial peace accord with the NWFP government and moved south from their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad, who had brokered the peace deal and who is Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah’s father-in-law. They later spread to Buner and Swat.

The military says over 1,100 militants have been killed since the operations began April 26 but there is no independent confirmation of this since the media has been barred from the battle zone.

The security forces have lost some 60 personnel.

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