Tue, Jan 20, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Insurgents destroy schools in Swat valley

AGENCIES , PESHAWAR AND MINGORA, PAKISTAN

Pakistani Taliban insurgents destroyed four schools in the northwestern Swat region yesterday, hours after a Cabinet minister vowed that the government would reopen schools in the violence-plagued valley.

The Swat Valley was until recently one of Pakistan’s prime tourist destinations, but Islamist militants aiming to impose a severe form of Islamic law began battling security forces in 2007.

Residents say the militants are now virtually in complete control of the valley, including its main town of Mingora, where the schools were blown up early yesterday.

“Militants blew up two girls schools and two boys schools,” said Shaukat Yousafzai, a top government official in the valley.

Schools are closed for a winter break and no one was hurt.

As with Afghanistan’s Taliban, their Pakistani counterparts oppose education for girls and recently banned female education in Swat altogether.

The militants also see schools as a symbol of government authority and say the army posts soldiers in them.

Yousafzai said the militants had destroyed 170 schools in the valley, where about 55,000 girls and boys were enrolled in government-run institutions.

Yousafzai said teachers were also refusing to work.

“I try to convince them but they’re scared. They doubt the government’s ability to protect them,” he said.

The president of a Swat teachers’ association said his members would only go back to work if the government brought complete peace and shut down the militants’ radio, or if the militants issued an order over their radio for a return to work.

“The ground reality is there’s no safety,” association president Ziauddin Yousafzai said. “If they’re destroying schools during a curfew, they can do anything. Even if the authorities announce schools are open, nobody will go and parents won’t send their kids.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan temporarily closed the major land supply route to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan yesterday after suspected insurgents killed a soldier and wounded 14, adding urgency to efforts to secure alternative supply lines as more US troops head to the region.

Growing militant activity along the Khyber Pass has prompted several temporary closures in recent months and it was not immediately clear how long the latest suspension would last.

Afghan-based US and NATO forces get up to 75 percent of their supplies via routes that traverse Pakistan, with Khyber being the main conduit into Afghanistan.

The trucks that carry the fuel, food and other goods face constant threats of violence. Militants have also ransacked truck-holding terminals in the nearby city of Peshawar.

The Khyber region is part of Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal belt, where al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters hold tremendous sway.

The Pakistani government has dispatched paramilitary escorts for the supply convoys and launched a crackdown on militants in Khyber, but militant activity has continued.

In the latest attack, suspected militants fired eight rockets at a Pakistani military camp in the Landikotal area early yesterday, said Fazal Mahmood, a senior government official in Khyber.

One soldier died, while 14 were wounded, he said.

A daylong curfew was imposed in Landikotal, while security forces are hunting down the militants, Mahmood said.

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