Pakistan seeks donors’ support to take care of refugees

May 21st, 2009 - 4:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 21 (DPA) A donors conference began in Pakistan Thursday to drum up humanitarian aid for refugees streaming from the conflict zone where the government is battling the Taliban.
Nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced by intense fighting in the Taliban bastion of Swat and its neighbouring districts of Buner and Dir. Another half a million were uprooted last year.

“There is an urgent need for (a) joint and comprehensive response to this issue by all those who are committed to fighting terrorism,” Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the meeting being attended by diplomats and representatives from foreign aid institutions.

The government and security forces have vowed to continue the fight until the last militant is eliminated, and the resolve has been hailed by Pakistan’s Western allies, including the US, which is heavily relying on Pakistan to win its war in Afghanistan.

The military announced a full-scale operation in Swat May 8 after a peace agreement there fell apart in the face of the Taliban insurgency and the militants’ advance to within 100 km of the capital city, Islamabad. Deadly clashes erupted in Buner and Dir in late April.

Gilani said the offensive had started to produce positive results but it came with “grave repercussions” in terms of the massive dislocation of civilians.

Prior to the Swat onslaught, the authorities were confident of managing the displacements, but this month’s massive influx has led to “a manifold increase in the magnitude of the crisis,” Gilani said.

Relief agencies have called upon the international community for urgent support to overcome the crisis.

UN refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres last week described the mass exodus as “one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises in recent times,” warning that, if left languishing, the refugees could become “an enormous destabilising factor.”

Pakistani officials estimated that troops are taking on 4,000 to 5,000 well-trained Taliban fighters in the north-west. According to the army, more than 1,000 militants and up to 55 soldiers have been killed so far.

There is broad political and public support for the military action, but that could vanish quickly if civilian deaths rise and the displaced people were not taken care of.

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