Wed, Apr 14, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Thousands flee Pakistan offensive


More than 200,000 people have fled Pakistan’s latest offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest, the UN said as fresh clashes in the remote region killed 41 insurgents and six soldiers.

Elsewhere in the northwest, a suspected US missile killed five alleged militants in a house in North Waziristan, the latest in a series of strikes in the region, Pakistani officials said on Monday.

North Waziristan is home to al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders, many of whom play a role in the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

The military has pounded the Orakzai tribal region with ­airstrikes and artillery in an attempt to rout insurgents from the rugged, mountainous area near the Afghan border. Many Taliban fighters fled to Orakzai last year to escape a separate army offensive in their tribal stronghold of South Waziristan.

The exodus of civilians from Orakzai adds to the more than 1.3 million people driven from their homes by fighting in the northwest and unable to return.

The UN warned on Monday it faces a severe shortfall in funding needed to aid those displaced, saying it has only received about US$106 million, or 20 percent, of the US$538 million appeal it launched in February for the next six months.

Last year, the UN had received 40 percent of its appeal by this time, it said.

Martin Mogwanja, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, said some aid groups providing water, food, health care and sanitation for the displaced were having to scale down their activities.

Funding levels have been lower this year because of the recent financial crisis and the large amounts of aid directed to help Haiti recover from a recent, devastating earthquake, Mogwanja said.

Pakistan received significant international attention last spring when more than 1 million people fled a military offensive in the Swat valley. Most of those people have returned home, but the number of displaced in the country has remained high as the military has targeted other areas.

About 210,000 people have fled Orakzai since the fighting first started at the end of last year, including nearly 50,000 people who left in the past month as the military has intensified its offensive in the area, the UN said.

The latest violence in Orakzai occurred on Monday when dozens of militants armed with rockets and automatic weapons attacked two security checkpoints in the villages of Shireen Dara and Sangrana, local administrator Saaid Khan said.

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