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Bajaur residents flee fighting

Many civilians, including children and women, have fled conflict-hit northern areas.
(Kamila Hyat/IRIN)

As fighting in Pakistan's northern areas intensifies, about 2,800 families from the tribal area of Bajaur are reported to have crossed into neighbouring Afghanistan.

Most are believed to be based in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, along Pakistan's western border.

AFP quoted Afghanistan's deputy refugees minister, Abdul Qader Ahadi, as confirming they had entered Afghanistan after "they escaped fighting between Pakistani Taliban and the security forces".

He told the news agency most were women and children. Each family comprises about 20 people on average.

Pakistan's autonomous Human Rights Commission (HRCP) this month put the number of people displaced by conflict in Bajaur, Swat, Waziristan and other northern areas at 700,000.

HRCP said those people had been forced to flee areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border due to US bombings targeting militants and from other areas due to Pakistan security forces fighting militants.

HRCP has estimated at least 2,000 civilian deaths over the past year due to conflict.

"You cannot defeat militants by the indiscriminate killings of civilians. What is needed is an effort to build a consensus and find a political solution to the issue," Iqbal Haider, co-chairman of HRCP, told IRIN.

Haider also called on the Pakistan government to "do more" to help people caught up in conflict.


Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
The bombed out remains of a shop hit by militants

Protests

Meanwhile, angry protests broke out on 23 September in Mingora - a city in the Valley of Swat, some 150km north-east of the North West Frontier capital, Peshawar - as thousands of people protested against the suspension of power, gas and water, mainly due to militant attacks on installations.

Severe food shortages have also been reported in the area due to a disruption in transport amid intensified conflict. Security forces opened fire on protesters, killing at least six people, the BBC reported on 23 September, and this has led to a fresh wave of anger, say observers.

"We have been without power for three days. Due to this, the pumps do not run and there is no water in homes. Now even gas supplies have been suspended. What can we do but protest even if government forces mow us down like animals?" Naeem Ahmed, a resident of Mingora, said IRIN by telephone.

The situation also means displacements from Swat are continuing, with thousands of people moving to Peshawar or other cities. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman, William Spindler, told a media conference in Islamabad on 23 September that "90,000 are believed to be displaced in Swat according to a recent government assessment".

UNHCR is seeking US$17 million to assist more than 300,000 people in northern Pakistan, forced out of their homes by floods or fighting.


Photo: ReliefWeb
Map of Pakistan showing Kurram and Bajaur in the troubled northwestern FATA areas bordering Afghanistan

"Anyone who has the means to go or has relatives based in other cities has now left Swat," Sher Mohammad Khan, a Mingora-based lawyer and human rights activist, told IRIN.

He said the attack on a 132 kilowatt power grid station had been "carried out very expertly with the main control room targeted" and there was little hope of the electricity supply being restored to Mingora "for months".

After the burning of power installations, "people had expected gas plants would be protected by security forces but this too has not happened and they have been destroyed as well", Khan said.

While the situation in Swat is worsening, the largest displacements in recent weeks have been those in Bajaur, with 400,000 people leaving their homes. Some have returned, but many are still housed in camps in the adjacent district of Lower Dir or in other parts of the NWFP.

Efforts by the Pakistan government and international agencies to provide food to displaced people and improve housing conditions have been stepped up over the past two weeks.

kh/at/mw


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

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