BANNU: Around 30,000 people fled the military offensive against militants in North Waziristan on Wednesday after the authorities eased a curfew in parts of the region to let civilians leave in a sign that the campaign was likely to intensify.
The military has deployed troops, tanks and jets in the region for the crackdown on Taliban and other militants.
Tens of thousands of people had already fled the operation, which the military says has killed more than 200 militants, and a fresh exodus is under way.
“Some 30,000 people have arrived in Bannu from Mirali town of North Waziristan since this morning,” Arshad Khan, Director General of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas Disaster Management Authority, said.
He said 92,000 people had fled the region since the military began air strikes.
Most have gone to the adjoining Bannu district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Registration points and camps have been set up to deal with the influx of people.
A security official said the curfew had been lifted to let people flee before a more concerted ground operation.
“Miramshah and Mirali have already been cordoned off. Ground troops will move in after civilians move to safe places,” he said. “First, ground troops will enter major towns and then move towards the suburban areas,” after strengthening their positions, he said. “We will then go to the villages and mountains,” he added, saying the operation would continue until every militant had been eliminated.
Some residents who had fled the area spoke of civilian casualties from aerial bombing before the offensive officially began on Sunday.
Azizur Rehman, a 42-year-old schoolteacher who fled Mirali riding on the bonnet of a truck, said: “They start the day with artillery shelling early in the morning. Helicopters come for shelling during the day and jets strike at around 2-2.30 in the night.”
Many streamed into Bannu carrying their possessions -- quilts, buckets, mats, water coolers, even livestock and pets.
As they entered Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the people were issued ration packs containing biscuits, tea, sugar and milk.
Thousands of people have also fled across the border into the Gorbaz district of Afghanistan’s Khost province.—AFP
Our Correspondents in Miramshah and Bannu add: As mass departure of tribal people begun after the curfew was relaxed for three days, hapless people were seen heading in all directions, including towards Lakki Marwat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to flee their native areas.
The two camps set up for the displaced people in Bannu district and the adjoining Frontier Region were empty as they preferred to arrange accommodation on their own or put up with host families.
Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said at a press conference in Peshawar that over 70,000 displaced people had been registered while more were pouring out of North Waziristan.
“We expect more internally displaced persons in the next two days,” he said, adding that the provincial government was ready to assist destitute people at this critical moment.
Thousands of families were on their way to Afghanistan.
The Khost governor’s spokesman Mubariz Zadran told Dawn by phone that 3,000 families had been registered by Wednesday.
“There are reports that thousands of people have crossed into Khost after Pakistani authorities lifted curfew in North Waziristan. These people are without food and other basic needs,” he said.
The spokesman said the Afghan government was trying to help the refugees while the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, had also dispatched relief items for 500 families.
Meanwhile, about 300 people who had gone to Khost from North Waziristan came back to Pakistan via Kurram Agency. The Frontier Corps personnel took them to Bannu.
Sources said the people of Mirali and Razmak sub-divisions would be evacuated in the first phase via Esha and Khajori checkpoints and stranded people of Miramshah and Ghulam Khan would be transported to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the second phase.
An official said the doctors and other staff in the agency headquarters hospital in Miramshah had been asked to leave.
Syed Ahmad of Mirali told Dawn in Bannu that thousands of families were waiting for transport and people had been seen travelling on foot after the five-day curfew was lifted.
Transporters demanded hefty fares from the uprooted families which were desperate to get to safe places. People reaching Bannu said as they had run out of food and other commodities, they had no option but to leave the area. Otherwise starvation was certain, they added.
Another man, who had come from Mirali, called for evacuation of the large number of besieged people.
“People took up the journey on foot to save their lives after relaxation in curfew. The situation back home was hard,” he said.
People who had left behind their belongings after the sudden military action were facing acute problems.
Rents for houses in Bannu have soared amid the crisis.
A jirga of tribal elders in Tank expressed concern over the safety of some Mehsud tribesmen who had gone to North Waziristan for work.
The area was now under the army’s control and the tribesmen had been besieged there, the jirga presided over by the North Waziristan political agent was informed.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2014
Operation Zarb-i-Azb: Interactive map
Latest: Around 30,000 soldiers involved in operation - over 200 insurgents killed.
Interactive map produced by: Sana Malik | Mahnoor Bari | Gulzar Nayani
Data gathered from ISPR and Dawn