Troops lay claim to key Swat area

ISLAMABAD: Locked in fierce gun battles with the Taliban in a mountain stronghold of militants in the northwest, Pakistani troops have “fully secured” a strategic plateau in Swat even as government sought urgent global aid for two million civilians displaced by the military operation. At least eight security personnel and several militants were killed in the fresh fighting as the troops continued their push towards Mingora, the main city in Swat district that is still controlled by the Taliban.

The military said troops had succeeded in fully securing Banai Baba Ziarat, the highest point in the area and a militant stronghold. Troops also strengthened their positions at Kanju and Takhtaband, two key areas located near Mingora, after overcoming resistance from militants. Militant commander Abu Tariq was among several Taliban fighters killed in the fighting. Seven militants were also apprehended, the military said in a statement.

Five soldiers were killed and seven more, including an officer, were injured in fighting across Swat valley, the statement said. TV news channels reported that another three security personnel and four militants were killed in nearby Dir district. A captain was among two security personnel killed when a security forces convoy was attacked by militants on the Timergarha-Maidan road in Dir. Five security personnel, including a colonel, were injured in the same attack, TV channels reported. The heaviest casualties for the security forces were reported at Kanju and Takhtaband in Swat, where five soldiers were killed. Vowing to root out militancy from Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sought urgent aid from international donors for some two million people displaced by the ongoing military operations against the Taliban.

UN seeks funds for Pak refugees

Islamabad: The United Nations appealed on Friday for $543 million to ease the “incredible suffering” of nearly two million refugees from Pakistan’s war against Taliban militants. The world body said the money was urgently needed to fund some 165 projects drawn up by UN agencies and aid groups to assist civilians fleeing the conflict centred on the northwestern Swat Valley.

“The scale of this displacement is extraordinary in terms of size and speed and has caused incredible suffering,” Martin Mogwanja, the acting UN humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, said in a statement. “We are calling for generous support from the international community,” he said. An estimated 1.9 million people have fled the fighting in Swat and two neighbouring districts since the army launched an offensive last month. — AP