Wed, Sep 16, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Up to 100,000 have fled Khyber district, UN says

AFP , ISLAMABAD AND KARACHI

Between 56,000 and 100,000 people have fled their homes since Pakistani troops launched a new anti-Taliban offensive in the tribal Khyber district, UN and Pakistani officials estimated on Monday.

The military, backed by artillery and helicopter gunships, launched the offensive on Sept. 1 after a suicide bomber killed 22 policemen in Khyber, which lies on the main supply route for Western troops in Afghanistan.

“Over 100,000 people have arrived in Peshawar since the military mounted an offensive,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister in North West Frontier Province. “We intend to set up a camp for them. We have asked the federal government to provide us assistance to cope with the situation.”

Qaiser Afridi, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the ongoing operation in the Bara district of Khyber had displaced between 8,000 and 12,000 families. The families average seven members.

“They are staying with their friends and relatives and we are just getting this data from our implementing partners,” Afridi said.

UNHCR has advised the government to prepare assistance for the displaced people, he said.

“We are assessing the humanitarian situation there and let’s see what the government does,” he said.

In April Pakistan launched a major operation to clear the Taliban from Swat and neighboring northwestern districts.

The offensive forced 1.9 million civilians from their homes. The UN last week said 1.65 million people had returned after the government declared the area free of insurgents.

In related news, police exchanged fire with gunmen on the streets of Pakistan’s financial capital to thwart a suspected militant plot against a strategic oil terminal complex, officials said yesterday.

The overnight shootout in a western part of Karachi came with security forces on alert in the sprawling city of 14 million ahead of next week’s Eid-al-Fitr celebrations at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

“Three men wearing women’s burqas in a van wanted to enter the city’s oil terminal but were resisted by a facility guard,” city police chief Wasim Ahmed told reporters.

“They shot dead the guard [who was outside the main gate] and fled when a police patrol team exchanged fire with them,” he said.

Police seized 10 grenades, three kalashnikovs and women’s purses crammed with bullets and cartridges.

“We suspect they wanted to carry out a big terror activity which our prompt police action thwarted. We are vigilant and our security measures have so far saved the city from any major terror incident,” Ahmed said.

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