PAKISTAN: Villagers flee conflict-hit Swat
PESHAWAR, 31 October 2007 (IRIN) - Villagers are fleeing Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan after clashes between government troops and militant followers of the pro-Taliban religious leader Maulana Fazlullah, despite reports of a ceasefire, according to local residents and officials.
“I know that over a thousand people have left from the town of Charbagh and villages nearby,” Azam Khan, a local resident about 20km outside Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), told IRIN.
He decided to move from his home in the valley, about 190km northeast of Peshawar, because “the fighting is getting really terrifying and there is too much uncertainty” – referring to the operation launched by paramilitary troops against militants in Swat.
Since 2,500 troops were deployed to the area on 24 October, battles have raged in the village of Imam Dehri, the stronghold of Fazlullah, who is accused by Pakistani authorities of involvement in more than 40 incidents of terrorism in the area this year.
Clashes have also taken place in and around the congested city of Mingora, adjacent to Swat’s administrative headquarters at Saidu Sharif, and in villages of the Matta administrative unit.
At least 60 militants have been killed in three days of clashes, while dozens more have been injured, including civilians, and hundreds, if not thousands, have reportedly fled, Pakistani media said on 30 October.
Some are taking refuge with relatives in Peshawar or other parts of NWFP, while others have simply moved to calmer areas of Swat itself.
“Most people are moving to nearby towns in the area like Mardan,” said Imran Khan, coordinator in Peshawar for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
“We are aware of the problems faced by local people. These will be resolved soon,” the NWFP home secretary Bacha Gul Wazir said.
Copyright © IRIN 2007
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