Hundreds of people have been attempting to flee conflict-hit Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan as fighting flared up again after a several week lull, according to local media reports.
The army launched an operation in the area after militants resumed attacks on schools and shops. The director-general of the military's Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Maj-Gen Azhar Abbas, said the operation would "continue to its logical end".
The chief minister of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Amir Haider Hoti, and provincial governor Owais Ghani, said in a statement that "61 girls' schools had been destroyed with over 17,000 children deprived of education, and several bridges and public properties had been damaged" by militants during the past few months.
According to national newspapers, the death toll in Swat (some 160km northeast of Peshawar) over the past few days of fighting has been 71. This reportedly includes at least 22 civilians, most killed in mortar attacks.
"It's terrifying to be living here. The strafing from the helicopters and the artillery fire seems to be endless," said Azmat Khan, a resident of Mingora town. Because of the situation, it was "very difficult to take the injured to hospital", he said.
He also said "the authorities should make some plan to evacuate injured people, and those whose houses have been hit," adding that children were among those suffering.
Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
|Authorities say dozens of schools for girls in Swat have been attacked by militants|
There is no official confirmation of displacements and lack of access to the area makes estimates difficult, but hundreds of people have reportedly attempted to leave the area on foot. No transport is available.
Dawn newspaper has reported that in some cases local people complained the authorities were preventing them from moving to safer locations.
The chairperson of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Asma Jahangir, has called for people caught up in the conflict in northern areas to be protected.
Food prices going up
With the transport of goods into Swat coming to a virtual halt, food prices have also begun to rise sharply. Local people say that in some areas, basic food items are up 200-300 percent. Dawn quoted Rehmat Khan, a resident of Matta where fighting has been especially fierce, as saying a "40kg flour bag has risen from Rs 950 (approx US$14) to Rs 2,500 (approx $37)".
Most people moving away from the conflict-hit areas of Swat are attempting to reach relatives in Peshawar or elsewhere. "My brother is trying to shift his family here. His wife is sick and he fears for her welfare in a situation where it is impossible to leave the house or fetch a doctor, sometimes for many hours," Muhammad Afzal, 35, a shop-owner in Peshawar, told IRIN.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions