08/01/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Violent clashes between army and Islamic rebels in the Swat Valley

The fragile peace instituted in May has been breached. In a few days, there have been dozens of deaths and civilian victims. The army is using artillery and helicopter fire, while the Islamic militants are burning state infrastructure and girls' schools. In May, a highly criticized armistice, which may have permitted the Taliban to regroup.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The provincial government is again calling the situation in the district of the Swat Valley "grave". The valley is in the North-West Frontier Province. Authorities are asking for more soldiers to "protect lives and property". The fighting between the Pakistani army and local rebels has resumed: yesterday in the village of Deolai, mortar fire struck a home, killing the entire family of seven, while other mortar rounds claimed scattered victims. The militants have burned bridges and other state infrastructure, and, to interfere with female education, they have burned a number of girls' schools, including one yesterday. Also yesterday, soldiers abandoned a fortification in southern Waziristan, where they had suffered repeated attacks.

The hostilities broke out on July 29, when rebels captured more than 30 soldiers and policemen in an assault at a checkpoint, after killing three intelligence officials on the 28th. Since then, at least 10 soldiers and 25 rebels have died. The area has become a war zone again, and people are fleeing by the hundreds. The soldiers are firing with helicopters and artillery on rebel positions. There is a curfew, lifted for only two hours before noon, to allow the population to buy provisions.

In May, the Pakistani government, incapable of defeating the insurgents, allowed the Taliban militias to occupy part of the province, and even set up their own Islamic courts to judge according to sharia, the Qur'anic law. In exchange, they set precise limits on their power, requiring them to pledge not to carry out attacks. The United States and NATO have always criticized this agreement, and now say that, instead of allowing Islamabad to regain control of the situation, it has allowed the Taliban and al-Qaeda to intensify their attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

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