10/16/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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South Waziristan: 200 thousand people on the run, fears a new humanitarian emergency

The announced offensive against Taliban strongholds has led to the exodus of almost half the population of the area. Witnesses confirm locals fear of imminent war. Increasingly difficult to find food and basic necessities. The region is hiding at least 10 thousand extremists, terrorists, including Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs.

Islamabad (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Pakistan is preparing to face a new humanitarian emergency. The announced military ground offensive in South Waziristan - a stronghold of the Taliban in the mountainous region along the border with Afghanistan – has caused the haemorrhage of about half of the 500 thousand inhabitants of the region. Since last August more than 200 thousand people have fled their homes, 90 thousand of which only in recent days. Yesterday, meanwhile, an airstrike hit a potential haven of the Taliban, killing 27 people.

 

"Life here is becoming more difficult," Mohammad Shahbaz, a businessman of South Waziristan tells German weekly Der Spiegel. "We are waiting for the outbreak of war." He explains that "already without conflict there were problems enough" with the military "patrols everywhere" and "check points on every street, making it more difficult" to find food and other basic needs. " "It is obvious that the military is concentrating in the area - he concludes - because there are numerous more soldiers and tanks. The alarm generated among the population is also confirmed by Mohammad Hashim Khan, who told the agency AFP that they have abandoned their homes in Sarwakai, because "the government is planning to attack the Taliban." He is afraid of becoming involved in the conflict, so he left with his entire family - seven people in all - and sought shelter in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in North-West Frontier Province. Haji Ayb Mehsud, 55, adds that the increasing attacks forced him to flee with his six children. "It is difficult for local people - emphasizes the man to AP -  to live in peace. I had flee with my entire family. "

Shahab Ali Shah, chief administrator of South Waziristan confirmed the "new exodus" in the region to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. "In recent times - adds the official - more than 90 thousand people have fled the area, finding refuge in safer areas like Dera Ismail Khan and Tank." They fear a repeat of the biblical exodus that happened last spring in the valley of Swat, where over two million people fled homes and businesses ahead of the army's offensive against Islamic extremists. An official in Dera Ismail Khan, on condition of anonymity, expressed hope that "this time we can avoid a humanitarian disaster," but when the military offensive begins, "we expect a mass exodus from South Waziristan. Where will we put – he wonders - all these people and give them something to survive? ".

The humanitarian emergency concerns also the United Nations, while the government has cordoned off the area to Pakistani and foreign journalists, who can not verify the military operations in person. "Since last month - says Ariane Rummery, spokeswoman for the UN agency for refugees - at least 80 thousand people from the South Waziristan have claimed refugee status. But government officials say that only half of those who have fled the area were registered”.

  Yesterday, finally, 27 were killed people in an air attack on one of the Taliban hideouts. "We are targeting terrorists hideouts, this is the first phase of an operation in South Waziristan," Announced Tariq Hayat, chief of security in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). He explains that the area hides  "at least 1,500 foreign terrorists, including Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs and Sudanese", for a total of 10 thousand combatants.

 

 

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