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Friday, May 8, 2009

Thousands Flee Pakistan

A Pakistani offensive against militants in the Swat Valley has displaced some 200,000 people and 300,000 are on the move or about to flee, the UN says. As jets and helicopters pounded targets in the valley, the UN said it was threatening to become one of the world's biggest displacement crises. Troops have killed more than 140 militants in the past 24 hours in a "full-scale" offensive, the army said. It accused the Taleban of trying to stop civilians leaving the area.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has vowed to "eliminate militants and terrorists" from Swat, a bastion of Taleban rule. Despite now abandoned attempts to secure a peace deal in and around Swat, the area - close to the border with Afghanistan - has long been riven by tensions. Some 550,000 people had already been displaced before the current crisis, said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond. Those displaced over recent days have been forced to flee with very little preparation, aid workers say, with families often separated, and doctors in displaced camps report widespread psychological trauma. Many are fleeing Mingora, the main town in Swat Valley, which was home to several hundred thousand people before the latest fighting began. Locals say that most of the current fighting is centred on the Kabal and Charbagh areas of Swat, as well as Mingora itself, and fighting is reported in Maidan, Lower Dir. Militant strongholds were hit from the air on Friday as troops conducted operations on the ground.

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