Sun, Sep 07, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan fighting causes 200,000 to flee their villages

AFP , GENEVA

Intense fighting in the Bajaur tribal district in north Pakistan has forced more than 200,000 people to flee their villages, an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) official said on Friday.

“There is a real war shaking the Bajaur region at the moment,” said Pascal Cuttat, the head of the ICRC Pakistan delegation, with government forces “facing heavy opposition.”

Pakistan’s forces have launched a number of major military offensives in recent weeks against militants in the Bajaur district, which is thought to be an al-Qaeda stronghold.

“In the last few weeks, we have a dramatic intensification of the armed conflict which has its flare-ups and this is the most difficult one,” Cuttat said during a press briefing in Geneva.

At least 200,000 people, possibly 300,000, have fled their homes in the semi-autonomous Bajaur district near the Afghanistan border in the past three weeks, Cuttat said.

“About 80 percent of this displaced population was composed of women and children, and a few elderly,” he said, while adding that the fugitives left with “literally nothing.”

However, the majority of men opted to remain in their homes to protect their belongings and not leave their land during the harvest season, Cuttat said.

A large number of civilians traveled south to Marden and Peshawar, while others have headed north to the Lower Dir district.

Approximately 14,000 traveled over the border to Afghanistan, fearing the fighting will drag on for a long time, Cuttat said.

The organization, which fears a spread in diseases such a cholera, has provided drinking water to 50,000 people, as well as health facilities, tents and medicine.

“These displaced people urgently need vital items,” Cuttat said.

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