Pak lets civilians flee Swat Valley war zone

SHAGUNA NAKA: Pakistan’s military suspended a curfew today in a northwest city where it is fighting Taliban guerrillas, officials said, allowing tens of thousands of civilians to flee the area.

In what is emerging as a grave humanitarian crisis, hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians have been trying to get to safety from the Swat Valley, where the army launched a new offensive late last month to crush the militants.

The suspension came as the Pakistani military said troops had killed 55 militants in various parts of the valley and had arrested a top Taliban commander, Dawa Noor, during the last 24 hours. The government suspended a curfew for people going out of Swat’s main city of Mingora from dawn until mid-afternoon, and local administration chief Arshad Khan said residents had been advised to leave — and were doing so.

‘People are leaving in large numbers,’ Khan said. ‘They are vacating their homes.’ Hundreds of vehicles including buses, cars, rickshaws, pickups and motorbikes were seen crossing the Shaguna Naka checkpoint at the exit of the conflict zone.

People sat on the roofs of buses and backs of trucks with their bedding and clothes as they headed for Mardan 30 km away where authorities have set up camps for the displaced people. “The situation is very, very bad. We have no hope for life,” said a young man who identified himself only as Ibrahim.

He said he came with 30 people who fled Odigram village near Mingora to escape the fighting. ‘We are going to Mardan. We are just going to sit under a tree somewhere. We just want some safety for our children,’ he told AFP at the checkpoint.