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Old 05-05-2009, 03:46 PM
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Default 500,000 flee Taliban

By Isambard Wilkinson in Islamabad, Ashfaq Yusufzai and Emal Khan in Peshawar
Last Updated: 10:13PM BST 05 May 2009

Up to 500,000 people are preparing to flee Pakistan's troubled Swat valley after the military gave warning it was about to launch a major operation to retake control of the region.

The authorities urged people to leave the area as troops gathered following the collapse of an agreement for militants to lay down their arms in return for the establishment of Sharia law.
Thousands took to the roads as Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), said camps would be set up for half a million refugees.

Bedraggled men, women in burkas and children piled on to pickup trucks, and led animals through streets in their haste to flee.
Clashes between security forces and militants in the north-west of Pakistan's have already created hundreds of thousands of refugees who have sought sanctuary in badly-supplied camps.
Fighting between the army and Taliban has continued with 20 civilians reported to have been killed in Swat as a result of mortar and artillery fire from security forces at the centre of Mingora, the district's capital.
The army said militants had attacked checkpoints and bases in four different locations in Swat, and that armed militants were now openly patrolling Mingora's streets.
Locals said the fighters had recruited young men, broadcast anti-government propaganda via FM radio stations and established trenches and laid mines throughout Mingora.
Khushal Khan, district co-ordination officer in Swat, said residents had been told to evacuate because there was a fear the Taliban could attack security forces with heavy weapons. The order was later rescinded when the attacks no longer seemed likely, causing more confusion.
"I'm taking my family to Peshawar because if there's any fighting, no one can protect us," said Mohammad Karim, as he searched for a bus heading out of the valley to Peshawar, the capital of NWFP.
Maj Gen Athar Abbas, the army spokesman, said: "The end of the ceasefire has not been announced but it is imminent. The way the Taliban has gone on the offensive locally, there is no other way out."
The February peace pact, under which authorities agreed to a Taliban demand for introduction of Islamic law in the former tourist valley, led to accusations from critics both at home and abroad that the government was caving in to militancy.
The government has claimed that by setting up Sharia courts in the region, it had appeased locals and drawn support away from militants.
"The people support us fighting against the militants. We have given them Sharia courts but the militants have still not laid down their weapons," said Zahid Khan, a senior leader of the NWFP's ruling Awami National Party.
Militants fought a long bloody battle with the army in Swat from August 2007 until this year's deal in February. The renewed fighting is expected to be far worse as the peace deal has given militants time to consolidate.
Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, said: "It is our responsibility to defend ourselves against military's operation. We have the right to defend ourselves.
"We have not broken the peace deal but the government had started operation in Buner and Dir to sabotage peace agreement."
Ali Jawad, a lecturer at the postgraduate Jehanzeb College in Swat, said people were very fearful. he said: "We are again at the mercy of Taliban after the breakdown of ceasefire. We fear the situation will go to square number one.
President Asif Ali Zardari is due to meet President Barack Obama and the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in Washington today (Wednesday) for talks on the growing militant threat in the region.
Washington has accused Islamabad of abdicating to the Taliban while Mr Obama described the government as "very fragile".
Mr Zardari is expected to do his utmost to convince Mr Obama that his government is capable of tacking militancy.

Last edited by Texas; 05-05-2009 at 03:51 PM..
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