Residents Escape Fighting In Pakistan's Swat Valley

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Pakistani authorities have temporarily lifted a curfew to enable thousands of people to flee the fighting in the militant bastion of Swat. More than 800,000 people already have left. The army launched the offensive northwest of Islamabad, last week to stop the spread of Taliban influence.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

A significant slice of Pakistan's civilian population is on the move today. Close to a million Pakistanis have been displaced by fighting in the scenic Swat Valley. Pakistan's military is moving against the Taliban in mountains and towns. In this part of the program, we'll hear from two American senators who think American aid to civilians may be a key to that conflict. We begin in Pakistan with NPR's Julie McCarthy.

JULIE MCCARTHY: The offensive in Swat Valley and adjoining areas has now entered its ninth day. Few venture a guess on how long it will take to complete the mission of eliminating the Taliban from the country's North-West Frontier Province, where it is has gained a foothold. Security forces opened a new front this week in the fighting when airborne troops were dropped into the mountains near Puchar. The densely forested area is the suspected hideout of Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban commander behind the two-year uprising that has devastated the Swat Valley.

The army said yesterday that troops propelled an attack in Puchar, killing at least 21 militants in what it called a fierce clash. The military has lifted the curfew in Swat Valley to allow inhabitants to escape the battle between Pakistani troops trying to reestablish authority and militants who've overrun area. Tens of thousands of terrified civilians have streamed out of the conflict zone with their numbers increasing by the day.

Overwhelmed government-run camps are replete with tales of narrow escapes. Fleeing residents from the central Swat Valley city of Mingora say that Taliban still controls the town, ordering inhabitants not to leave their homes. Five beheaded bodies were reported to have been found in Mingora yesterday. The latest official figure for the number of displaced people is approaching the 900,000 mark. As they embark on a uncertain future, the vast majority is being taken in by relatives and friends.

The prime minister said victory on the political front would depend on how well the nation treated the nearly one million people who've been driven by their homes by the fighting.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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