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Pakistan: Assistance needed for 65,000 people caught in Taleban and government forces fighting

Thousands on the move, journalists threatened, general strike called

The Pakistan government must provide assistance to at least 65,000 civilians who have fled fighting between Pakistani Taleban and government forces in Lower Dir district of the North West Frontier Province [NWFP], said Amnesty International.

The need for systematic assistance to the displaced population is all the greater as Amnesty International has observed that civilians are now streaming out of neighbouring Buner district, where government forces have launched attacks using artillery and aerial bombardment.

Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, Sam Zarifi said:

“There is no sign that the central Pakistan government has prepared for the exodus of civilians. As the military operations spread, most likely to Swat next, the government has to ensure that the fleeing civilians have adequate food, shelter, and healthcare.”

A Pakistani NGO Al Khidmat told Amnesty International that it had registered at least 65,000 displaced people. As the operations apparently ended after four days, Al Khidmat said it was the only group assisting the displaced population, without any assistance from the central government.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taleban issued a written warning to journalists in Timergara, Dir, threatening them that if they persisted in presenting material against the Taleban and the Nizam-e Adl regulation that gave the Taleban administrative control over a wide swath of NWFP, they would be tried in the Taleban’s Sharia courts.

The Taleban also called the press club in Timergara on Wednesday, threatening to send a car full of explosives.

Sam Zarifi continued:

“The Taleban’s warning to journalists shows again their absolute disdain for human rights. The Taleban have consistently jeopardised the well-being of the people living under their control.”

On Wednesday 29 April the District Hospital in Timergara confirmed a total of 13 civilians killed during the fighting, including eight civilians: two Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, a boy, and five men (two of them primary school teachers).

Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International in Timergara that at least 28 to 30 houses had been completely destroyed while dozens of houses have been partially damaged.

Civilians told Amnesty International that security forces had warned civilians to evacuate their villages during the operations. Locals reported use of helicopter gunships and heavy artillery again on Wednesday, though the fighting seemed to have ended by day’s end.

On Wednesday, most businesses in Timergara observed a general strike and several towns in Lower Dir witnessed demonstrations against the army operations.

The demonstrations were attended by local workers and leaders of most of Pakistan’s major parties.

Meanwhile in Buner, Amnesty observed hundreds of civilians leaving Buner district as the Pakistani army and Frontier Corps units launched operations around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, using jet fighters and helicopter gunships.

According to our sources, forces were moved from Mardan through the area known as Bakhshali.

Thousands of people are arriving in adjacent Sawabi and Mardan districts. Security forces have asked the people fleeing the area not to move in small groups as they might get hit because the Taleban are also moving in small groups.

A curfew has been announced in all the main towns on the main road starting from Shehbaz Garaha till Ambela, Buner. Those who are leaving Buner for safer places are facing difficulties because of the curfew.

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