Central & South Asia
Pakistan lifts Swat curfew
Military eases restrictions on seven towns as it closes in on Taliban fighters.
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2009 12:12 GMT
Secuirty in Lahore has been stepped up in the
wake of recent suicide attacks [AFP]

Pakistan's military has lifted its curfew on seven towns in the Swat valley, allowing thousands of people trapped amid the army's campaign against Taliban fighters to search for food and supplies.

The loosening of restrictions on Monday comes as the military closed in on fighters in the Swat district, part of the country's North West Frontier Province.

The military said that daytime curfews had been lifted in the towns of Bahrain, Madyan, Fatehpur, Khwazakhela, Matta and Alpurai and in the district of Shangla.

But civilians venturing out were still at risk. The Associated Press quoted a witness as saying he had seen soldiers fire on civilians, apparently because they suspected they were Taliban fighters.

"I saw two people who came out to ask for relief goods and they opened the fire on them from the mountains," Gohar Ali, a Mingora resident, said.

Sebastian Brack , a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Al Jazeera that refugees, as well as those who remained in the valley faced numerous problems.

"There are huge problems in terms of basic services that need to be provided - electricity, water, phone lines, the re-establishment of family links," he said.
"The second level of the humanitarian problem is all those people who found refuge in host families, which are fairly close to the area where the fighting is taking place but which are not receiving the bulk of the humanitarian relief effort.
"That effort is being concentrated further south at the IDP [internally displaced people] camps."

Residents starving

In depth

 Exclusive: Swat exodus continues
 Swat's fleeing Sikhs
 Inside war-torn Mingora city

Refuge for Swat's Sikhs
 Lahore bombing

 Diary: Imran Khan
 Riz Khan: Obama's 'AfPak' strategy
 Riz Khan: The battle for the soul of Pakistan
 Interview: Asif Ali Zardari
 Q&A: The struggle for Swat
 Your views: Crisis in Swat

 The fight for northwest Pakistan
Talking to the Taliban
Pakistan's war
 Witness: Pakistan in crisis

The military claims that Mingora, the main city in Swat, is back under government control after weeks of fighting, but aid workers say there is little food and water available, and electricity is limited.

Analysts say that the authorities must rapidly restore basic services to stop the Taliban from exploiting frustrations and poverty to remount its campaign.

The Pakistani army launched its offensive against Taliban fighters in Swat and surrounding districts a month ago after they violated the terms of a ceasefire and advanced into a region close to the capital, Islamabad.

The Swat offensive has earned US praise, but the fighting has displaced up to three million people, threatening a humanitarian crisis.

Most of Mingora's residents, numbered at more than 375,000, fled the offensive.

Afzal Khan, one resident who stayed behind, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: "We have been starving for many days. We have been cooking tree leaves to keep ourselves alive. Thank God it [the fighting] is over."

Bomb blast

Elsewhere in the North West Frontier Province, at least two people were killed when a bomb ripped through a bus stop in the garrison town of Kohat.

The blast wounded 18 other people, police said.

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"At least two people were killed and 18 others wounded in a remote-controlled bomb blast at the bus station in Tirah bazaar in Kohat," Fazal Naeem, a spokesman for the local police, was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

Kohat is an important garrison town on the border with Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas in the North West Frontier Province.

Ehsanullah Khan, a senior police official, said that the explosive device was hidden in a sack and confirmed it was detonated by remote control.

Pakistan has stepped up security in its cities following recent suicide bombings away from Swat, including one in the Punjabi city of Lahore that killed about 30 people.

Officials have said the bombings are retaliatory attacks by the Taliban.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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