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MIRAMSHAH/PESHAWAR: Four suspected militants were killed and three others injured as security forces continued to pound militant hideouts in the Machis Camp area of North Waziristan on Friday.

The military action launched on Wednesday has resulted in displacement of a large number of civilians, with vulnerable families seeking shelter in Miramshah and the adjoining Bannu district.

Security forces backed by helicopter gunships shelled the Machis Camp area on the outskirts of Miramshah and also bombed militant positions in Sokhel Wazir and Kherwani. Troops entered Machis Camp without any resistance and blew up houses vacated by the local people.

Eyewitnesses said four bodies and three injured had been found in the debris of the houses. The injured were taken to the agency headquarters hospital in Miramshah.

Military planes have been bombing militant positions in Miramshah and Mirali sub-divisions since the beginning of the operation which followed an attack on a vehicle carrying security forces in Ghulam Khan. Nine soldiers were killed and three others injured.

A curfew which has been in force in the area for some days was relaxed for a few hours on Friday.

There were conflicting reports about the number of casualties. While the ISPR claimed that over 60 local and foreign militants had been killed in the operation, some local people denied the claim.

Ilyas Khan, a resident of Mirali, said 15 women and children of a family died when a shell hit their house in Mosaki village. He claimed that about 1,000 shops and cabins had been destroyed in Mirali Bazaar.

Khalil Wazir, president of the Waziristan Action Committee, a welfare organisation, said more than 500 houses had been bulldozed in Machis Camp. He said the body of his 80-year-old servant had been found in the debris of a house.

“Situation is quite scary. People are facing difficulty in taking the injured to hospital,” he told Dawn on phone from Datakhel village.

He said that hundreds of families displaced from Machis, Sokhel Wazir and other villages had taken shelter in other people’s homes because of curfew.

“Thirty people have taken refuge in my house,” Wazir said.

He asked the administration to lift the curfew so that people could take their women and children to Bannu.

Sahib Noor of Mirali said dozens of vehicles with displaced persons were stranded in the Frontier Region Bakakhel and they desperately needed food and shelter.

An official in Peshawar said that about 150 families had moved out of the affected areas and they reached Bannu on Friday.

The federal and provincial governments, Fata civil secretariat and disaster management agencies have maintained silence on the issue. The disaster management and humanitarian organisations are unable to help the affected people because the government is yet to notify the area as “conflict zone”.

A three-paragraph official handout issued in Peshawar stated that a high-level meeting had been held with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan in the chair. Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Chief Secretary Amjad Ali Khan, police chief, Frontier Corps commander and other officials concerned attended the meeting.

The handout said the security institution in the province in the wake of the ongoing targeted actions to maintain the writ of law in North Waziristan Agency was especially discussed and the meeting took certain decisions to ensure safety and security of people.

AFP adds: Officials said foreign fighters hiding in the tribal areas were the main target of this week’s military operations.

An intelligence official based in Miramshah said four suspected militants had been killed and later security forces carried out a door-to-door search, arresting five others.

Local intelligence officials said foreign militants along with their families have taken refuge there in recent years, including Chechens, Uzbeks, Chinese, Turkmen, Tajiks and Uighurs.

One senior security official said the military was in particular targeting the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist militant outfit blamed for numerous terror attacks in China’s restive western region of Xinjiang.

He said the Chinese government had pressed Pakistan for taking action against the Uighur separatists based in North Waziristan. “The Chinese authorities had conveyed their message separately to the prime minister and the army chief; the issue had been raised even with the president when he was on an official visit to China,” he added.

The military action comes after more than three months of stop-start peace talks between the government and the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, which have made little progress since they began in February.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2014