Pakistan choppers pound militants as civilian exodus grows

Bannu: Pakistani helicopter gunships pounded militant targets in the country`s northwest Saturday, killing up to 30 rebels, as the number of civilians fleeing an long-awaited offensive there surpassed 300,000.

AFP| Last Updated: Jun 21, 2014, 20:17 PM IST

Bannu: Pakistani helicopter gunships pounded militant targets in the country`s northwest Saturday, killing up to 30 rebels, as the number of civilians fleeing an long-awaited offensive there surpassed 300,000.

The exodus from the North Waziristan tribal area, on the Afghan border, came this week after the military launched the assault on militant hideouts in the wake of a Taliban attack on the airport in Karachi that left dozens dead and destroyed a nascent peace process.

Civilians have fled into the Pakistani cities of Bannu, Peshawar and Kohat and across the border into Afghanistan.

The number of refugees is expected to increase as around 300,000 people are trapped in North Waziristan due to a shoot-on-sight curfew which was extended for one day after it expired on Friday.

Authorities have told the stranded residents to leave the area by Sunday.

Arbab Arif, the chief administrator of the tribal areas, told reporters in Peshawar that the total number of people who fled the region has surpassed 300,000.

He added that another 300,000 were yet to be evacuated.

An AFP correspondent in Bannu saw hundreds of people walking on foot to the town. The government-run children`s hospital in Bannu is overcrowded with children suffering from diarrhoea.

Due to lack of space at the hospital, four to five children were being accommodated in one bed.

Around half a dozen children lying outside the hospital were being treated with the drip bags hanging from tree branches.

Registration points and camps have been set up to deal with the influx of people in Bannu, but many prefer to travel on to stay with relatives in other areas.

Sirajul Haq, a senior provincial minister, said the federal government and the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have allocated 12 million rupees ($122,000) for refugees from the area. The money is to be distributed among ten thousand families.

He said the buses from all the government-run colleges and universities in the province will be used for transporting refugees from the tribal area to Bannu.

Meanwhile, the military said all ranks of the army would donate one day`s pay and provide 30 days` rations for the people fleeing the military offensive.

Earlier on Saturday, the military said 30 insurgents were killed in targeted air strikes in Khyber and North Waziristan agencies, semi-autonomous tribal regions on the Afghan border which are an important base for the Pakistani Taliban.

Nearly 280 insurgents have been killed since the start of the operation on Sunday, according to security officials, though it was not possible to confirm the number or identities of those killed.

The military offensive began after a bloody and dramatic attack on Karachi airport last week brought an end to months of largely fruitless government efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

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