Swat civilians flee as Pakistan fights Taliban

May 10th, 2009 - 1:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 10 (DPA) An exodus of civilians resumed in Pakistan’s Swat valley Sunday as a curfew was temporarily lifted to allow people flee the intensifying conflict.
Authorities announced the seven-hour break, starting from 6 a.m. (0000 GMT), and asked the residents of areas near Swat’s main town of Mingora to leave for safer places outside the mountain district.

Officials said civilians were particularly advised to vacate Qambar and Rahimabad towns where Taliban fighters had entrenched themselves among the local population.

Flocks of people were reported moving on foot as the mass exodus triggered a shortage of road transport.

Expressing concern over the “massive displacement”, the United Nations refugee agency said 200,000 people had already left the conflict-hit areas while another 300,000 were on the move or about to move.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Saturday that the security forces were battling the Taliban in “a fight for the survival of the country”.

The military has claimed killing nearly 200 militants, including some key commanders, in Swat since Friday when it launched a full-scale operation “to eliminate the terrorists.”

Air power was also being employed to strike militant hideouts in the scenic valley, which used to be a popular tourist resort until 2007, and its adjoining districts of Buner and Dir.

The Taliban fighters have expanded their influence in the region after signing a peace pact with the provincial government in February.

Under the accord, Islamic sharia law was introduced in Malakand division of the North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, in return for guarantees that the rebels would end their insurgency.

The unannounced collapse of the peace agreement came when the Taliban fighters earlier this week began armed patrols and took over government buildings in Mingora, besides hitting military targets.

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