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Mass exodus as clashes continue in South Waziristan

January 29, 2008

TANK, Jan 28: A large number of people moved out of the conflict-hit areas of South Waziristan as fierce clashes between security forces and militants continued on Sunday night and Monday, officials and local people said.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said that one soldier had been killed and nine others wounded in gun battles in various areas of the region. Helicopter gunships were also used.

Information gathered from different sources indicated that hundreds of displaced families, mostly women, children and elders, were migrating to the adjacent Tank district and North Waziristan.

“We fear a major humanitarian crisis if the conflict continues on the same scale in the region,” said Gul Rehman, a Tank-based social activist who visited the troubled areas. He said that a large number of families belonging to the Mahsud tribe had been living in open areas and parks in Tank.

“The displaced people had to walk for almost two days to reach Jandola and Tank,” Mr Rehman said.

He said that the terrain was very rough and people had faced numerous problems on their way, including non-availability of food and water.

The army has set up a relief camp at Kari Wam in the Frontier Region of Tank for the displaced families. An official said that around 200 people had arrived in the centre and they were being provided food and medicines.

There are unconfirmed reports about some children dying due to severe cold.“I have seen a man carrying body of his seven-year-old son who died due to freezing weather,” a resident of Tank City said. He said that witnesses had told him that about 30 children had died over the past week.

Over 100 displaced families have reached Miramshah in North Waziristan. Local elder Fazl Subhan, who is contesting the elections, has set up relief centres in Miramshah, Mirali and Esha.

Witnesses said that transporters were charging high fares from the displaced people. “From Omer Adda to Tank City, hardly a distance of 5km, the transporters are charging Rs1,000,” said a resident.

The displaced families are also looking for houses on rent and a committee of Mahsud tribesmen is helping them.

The sources said that heavy clashes which had started on Sunday night in Nawaz Kot, Kotkai and Berwand areas of South Waziristan continued on Monday. Security forces and helicopter gunships bombed suspected militant locations. Troops fired heavy artillery from their bases in Jandola, Manzai and Tank.

The ISPR said that heavy exchanges of fire continued in the Nawaz Kot area. Four security personnel were injured in the clash.

Heavy clashes were also reported from the Kotkai area where, according to the ISPR, one soldier was killed and five were wounded.

Security forces claimed to have cleared Shishamwan in the northeast of Kot Kai and militants suffered casualties and left the area.Local Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar, meanwhile, claimed that troops had suffered heavy casualties and lost control of the Nawaz Kot area. He said that the militants had also taken away the bodies of 10 security personnel.

— Zulfiqar Ali contributed to this report from Peshawar.