Troops kill 10 Taliban in northwest Pakistan

May 13th, 2009 - 5:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 13 (DPA) At least 10 militants and one soldier were killed Wednesday when troops backed by jets and helicopter gunships fought Taliban insurgents in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley and neighbouring districts.
The fresh action came a day after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari appealed to the world to help more than 750,000 people displaced by the conflict.

The offensive in Swat, formerly a popular tourist destination located about 140 km northwest of Islamabad, and the adjoining areas started after a peace deal between the Taliban and government broke down.

Under the February peace accord, which attracted much criticism from Washington, the government agreed to set up Islamic courts, hoping that after that Taliban demand was met, its militants would disarm. Instead, the emboldened rebels started to expand the territory under their control.

According to analysts, the ongoing offensive is a major test of the Pakistan Army in its fight against terrorism and extremism.

A military official said Wednesday that army helicopters were targeting militants who had taken up positions on buildings in Mingora, the main town in Swat.

Insurgent positions were also being engaged in Peuchar, a small valley where Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants have set up training centres, ammunition depots and a control and command system, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In the adjoining Lower Dir district, fierce fighting between troops and Islamist insurgents left 10 Taliban and one soldier dead.

“Our artillery destroyed three underground bunkers of the militants,” an intelligence official said.

The Pakistani government claimed Tuesday that the numbers of internally displaced people from the area had reached 750,000.

The UN refugee agency said Tuesday that it had registered 501,496 displaced people. They joined 550,000 other people displaced from other areas late last year who have not been able to return home.

Zardari described the refugee crisis as a “human catastrophe”.

“We want the world to help us,” the president told reporters Tuesday at the UN after a meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Human Rights Watch urged both Taliban and the Pakistani military to avoid civilian casualties in the conflict.

The New York-based group said it had received reports that the Taliban was “effectively using the people there as human shields to deter military attack” while the military’s aerial bombardment was causing “civilian deaths and the destruction of property.”

The Pakistan Army claims it has killed more than 750 militants and lost more than 28 soldiers in the conflict but has refused to give any information on civilian deaths.

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