Friday, June 20, 2014

Thousands flee Pakistan's Waziristan conflict

Islamabad, Pakistan - An ongoing military operation against Taliban fighters and their allies in the Pakistani tribal areas has triggered a mass exodus of residents from the area, with internally displaced people braving bombs, curfews and blocked roads to make it to the relative safety of neighbouring districts, residents and officials have told Al Jazeera.

"When we set off to flee to Bannu [a neighbouring district], we were unable to find transportation. At first, we walked for three hours on foot, and then we rented a car at three times the regular rate," said Muhammad Naseem Khan, 50, a resident of Mir Ali whose family of 30 is now staying with relatives in Bannu. "There are five rooms and already 25 people living in the house. We are 30 people in our own family, and we are facing many difficulties," he told Al Jazeera, adding that he had received word from neighbours in recent days that his home in Mir Ali had been destroyed by bombs.

On Thursday, the local disaster management authority told Al Jazeera that it had registered more than 76,623 people fleeing the conflict since a curfew was loosened in the past 48 hours. The total number of civilians and others to have left the area, a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and other armed groups, has now risen to 137,856, local official Haseeb Khan told Al Jazeera. Most of the internally displaced people (IDPs) have headed to the Bannu district, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, he said.

Pakistan's military said that it has killed at least 228 - all designated "terrorists" - in the military operation, dubbed "Zarb-e-Azb", so far. Most of those killed have been targeted in air strikes, with a large number reported to be foreign fighters associated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

'No terrorists in my family'
Civilian casualties, however, have also been a concern, and the Islamabad-based FATA Resource Centre, which has done extensive work in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), reported that at least 100 civilians have been killed since regular air strikes began in North Waziristan two weeks ago... read more: