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Central & South Asia
'Thousands flee' Taliban-held town
Civilians rush from the town of Mingora after government relaxes curfew.
Last Modified: 16 May 2009 10:10 GMT

Pakistanis fled Mingora any way they could after
the military lifted its curfew [AFP]
 

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled from a Taliban-occupied town in northwest Pakistan's Swat valley after the country's military suspended its curfew, according to officials.

People rushed out of Mingora on Friday after the government relaxed its restrictions around the city and advised civilians to leave.

"People are leaving in large numbers ... They are vacating their homes," Arsha Khan, a local administration official, said.

Pakistan's military is pursuing its 20th day of operations against suspected Taliban bases in the districts of Swat, Buner and Lower Dir in the country's North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

At least 55 suspected Taliban fighters have been killed in the last 24 hours by government forces in the NWFP, a military statement released on Friday said.

Three soldiers were killed in Taliban counterattacks over the same period, the statement said.

Seeking safety

Columns of cars, lorries and horse-drawn carts packed with people and laden with possessions streamed out of Mingora, witnesses said.

"I was waiting for the opportunity to leave Mingora. I got the chance today, and now I am going to Mardan," Ismail Khan, a Mingora resident, said as his family boarded a bus.

In depth


 Video: The fight for Mingora

 Riz Khan: Obama's 'AfPak' strategy

 Riz Khan: The battle for the soul of Pakistan

 Q&A: The struggle for Swat

 Your views: Crisis in Swat

 The fight for northwest Pakistan

Talking to the Taliban

Pakistan's war

 Pakistan diary

Another resident, who gave his name as Hamid, told the AFP news agency: "My shop was targeted and our own business destroyed. Mortar shells killed three children in front of me. We want a safe place outside Swat."

With the military stepping up pressure on the Taliban, Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, has described the fighters' presence in Pakistan's northwest as a unique situation.

"There's a threat in Karachi, there's a threat in Quetta, there's a threat in Peshawar, there's a threat in Lahore - there is a threat everywhere. [But] in the settled areas they attack and [then] leave," he told Al Jazeera's David Frost.

"Here [in northwest Pakistan] they come because there is no settled police, there is no constant supervision.

"Swat needs much more attention. We have 15,000 settled police in order to hold the place after the battle is over."

About 4,000 Taliban fighters are believed to be fighting in the region.

Humanitarian crisis

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation remains grave.

At least 834,000 civilians from the Swat and Buner districts have registered as displaced persons with the United Nations after leaving their homes to escape the fighting.

Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the scale of the refugee crisis is overwhelming. 

"Pakistan has no capacity to deal with these people and to provide them with the basic needs they require. The Pakistani people are in need of massive humanitarian support from the international community," he said from the Swabi refugee camp.

"If you look at the movement [of people from the war zone], it is indeed the biggest movement in present times. Massive humanitarian support is required or else there will be a humanitarian disaster."

The military onslaught comes after increasing pressure by the US government to take a stronger line against the Taliban.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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