Thousands of Pakistani villagers flee fighting

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The Independent Online

About 22,000 Pakistani villagers have fled a military operation in a tribal region near the Afghan border, with Islamist militants and soldiers killed and wounded in the fighting, officials said yesterday.

The offensive, involving aerial bombing, artillery and ground troops, began on 27 January in Mohmand district, said Roshan Khan Mehsud, a regional government representative. He said that nearly 100 insurgents had been killed so far, and there had been "some casualties" on the army side. The army bans reporters from the conflict zone and few aid groups operate in the hazardous terrain.

Pakistan's military have mounted several operations in the country's remote tribal regions bordering Afghanistan over the past three years, sending up to two million terrified residents fleeing their homes.

The army claims to have made decisive gains against the mostly Taliban insurgents, but many hundreds of thousands of residents have yet to return. Accounts of civilian casualties are numerous and militant attacks in Pakistan remain routine.

Mr Mehsud said the estimated 22,000 people displaced by the Mohmand operation were living in a government building, schools and three camps, away from the fighting. He said the United Nations was providing food, water and medical assistance to the people.

The US has been pushing Pakistan to take action against Taliban and al-Qa'ida hide-outs in the rugged northwest. It says much of the insurgency gripping Afghanistan and claiming the lives of US soldiers stationed there is planned and funded from the Pakistan side of the border.

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