PAKISTAN: Thousands flee South Waziristan as army offensive begins
ISLAMABAD, 19 October 2009 (IRIN) - Thousands of people have fled Pakistan’s South Waziristan territory adjacent to the Afghan border, as a military operation against Taliban militants got under way on 17 October.
A curfew was imposed in parts of Waziristan and troops began moving in, preventing others from fleeing. Action against militants had been anticipated for months.
A similar military campaign against militants in Swat District, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), ended in July, leading to the displacement of some 2.3 million people in the area.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its latest humanitarian update on Pakistan said about 500 people were fleeing South Waziristan daily.
“For planning purposes, the estimate for a likely displacement from South Waziristan in the event of further military operations has been increased from 160,000 to 220,000 people. This includes the over 77,000 people already displaced, registered and verified in D.I. [Dera Ismail] Khan and Tank Districts,” OCHA said.
“In the last four days, we have estimates of about 120,000 people leaving South Waziristan. They join the 80,000 estimated to have been displaced previously,” Ariane Rummery, spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Pakistan, told IRIN. She said the figures were based on estimates, “and there could be others we do not know about”.
As with previous waves of displacement from parts of NWFP, most of the displaced are staying with relatives or in rented accommodation, mainly in NWFP's Dera Ismail Khan and Tank districts, neighbouring South Waziristan.
“I will move from here to my uncle’s home in Peshawar, because I want to avoid spending money. We have not heard about any camps and even if they come up, I do not want my family to live in a tent - possibly for weeks or months because the fighting could go on for some time,” said Haji Asadullah Khan, who came to the town of Tank from Wana, the principal city of South Waziristan, and has been living in a rented room since then.
In a 16 October statement Amnesty International said its research teams on the ground had found “insufficient preparations for health facilities, supplies of food and drinkable water, and shelter for the displaced”.
“There has been growing unrest and even bombardment for weeks. I felt I had to take my family away,” said Ehsanullah Wazir, who is now in Dera Ismail Khan staying with his cousin. “We hope we will not have to stay for long. I am already concerned about the livestock I have left behind in our village because they could be stolen or killed with only my elderly parents to look after the animals,” he told IRIN from Dera Ismail Khan.
South Waziristan covers 11,585sqkm and has a population of some 500,000.
Maj-Gen Athar Abbas, the chief of the Inter Services Public Relations for the armed forces, told the media: “The operation was launched early in the morning on Saturday [17 October]. Both air and ground troops are taking part.”
NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told IRIN: “The government is providing all possible assistance to the displaced population”. He said “thousands of families” had been displaced, and that this number could increase.
Copyright © IRIN 2009
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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