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KHAR / GHALANAI, Aug 14: With 10 more people falling prey to heavy shelling by security forces in Bajaur Agency on Wednesday night, a fresh exodus started from the adjoining Mohmand region on Thursday amid fears of an imminent military operation.

Military authorities issued a warning to civilians in Taliban-dominated areas in Bajaur to move to safe places, locals said.

Witnesses said people in droves were fleeing areas considered to be strongholds of militants in Mohmand Agency, near its boundary with Bajaur, and heading towards Peshawar, Charsadda and some safe locations in the tribal area.

Thousands of people started leaving their homes in a hurry amid reports that an operation could be launched in Mohmand any moment. Long queues of vehicles were seen heading towards Peshawar and Charsadda districts of the NWFP, the witnesses said.

People in Bajaur said 10 people were killed when artillery shells hit two houses in Kass and Sheenkotai areas of Mamond tehsil late on Wednesday night. Four houses were damaged in Kass, 30kms northeast of Khar.

Helicopters attacked two vehicles in Damadola, near the Afghan border, on Thursday afternoon.

Sources said paramilitary forces vacated a checkpoint in Saddiqabad near Khar on Wednesday. Taliban had warned troops to leave the post.

The sources said the soldiers at the checkpoint had not been receiving food ration. Earlier, a main checkpoint in Umari had been abandoned.

The bullet-riddled body of a pro-government tribesman was found in Umari. Pamphlets were dropped from helicopters in Khar, asking people to vacate the areas where militants were hiding and not to travel after sunset and warning that they could be attacked if the instructions were not followed.

“Security forces have launched an operation against miscreants and people have to follow certain guidelines for their own safety,” the pamphlet said.

It asked people to immediately alight from their vehicles and raise their hands if a helicopter flew over them.

It said drivers should not park their vehicles under trees. Violators of the instruction would be attacked, it warned.

Displaced families from different parts of Bajaur continued heading towards Lower Dir and other adjacent districts. They have left elderly people to look after their houses.

An old man stranded in Khar told Dawn that helicopters and planes had not yet attacked major strongholds of militants and the ongoing operation had increased misery of common people.

He said the area was without electricity and people were running short of food and other essential commodities.

“We have been stranded and are passing life like that in a death cell. We don’t think that the operation will end soon,” he lamented. The octogenarian said many elderly people like him were in desperate need of food.

In Mohmand Agency, people were leaving Lakaro, Qandaro, Chenare and Safi areas.

“The situation has turned chaotic as people are using all modes of transport, including cars, trucks, pick-ups and donkey carts. Thousands of people are heading towards Peshawar on foot carrying little luggage,” said a resident of Bhai Korona, near Peshawar.

He said the Michni Bridge, which connects the tribal agency with Peshawar, had been swept away by flood a few years ago and people had to cross a river by using a makeshift bridge.

People having their own conveyance have been using another route connecting the agency with Charsadda and hundreds of vehicles entered the settled area from Mohmand Agency on Thursday.

Owners of public transport vehicles have raised fares manifold. Pick-up drivers have been charging Rs6,000 to Rs8,000 to take a family to a safe location.

Meanwhile, the body of a driver of the tribal administration, Hassan Khan, was found in the Ghazi Baig area of Mohmand Agency. He had been kidnapped a few days ago with his friend Dauran Khan, whose bullet-riddled body was found two days ago.

Our Charsadda correspondent adds: A government primary school for boys was blown up in Mian Kalay, near Mohmand Agency, on Thursday morning.