Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PAKISTAN - Call from Human Rights Groups, Civilians: Let Citizens Out, Resources In!



Summary:
U.S./Top News
Human Rights Watch said hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis trapped by an offensive against the Taliban in Swat face catastrophe and authorities should lift a curfew to enable them to get out and for help to get in, Reuters reports. The offensive in Swat has sparked an exodus of 2.3 million people, but about 200,000 people are believed to be still in the valley. Severe shortages of food, water and medicine were creating a major humanitarian crisis for the trapped civilians, HRW said.

Also see Human Rights Watch at hrw dot org
here

PAKISTANIS in Swat 'Face Catastrophe' - Clashes Spread (also see Common Dreams dot org)
Published on Tuesday, May 26, 2009 by Reuters by Robert Birsel - Also see military's apology at end of this article from Reuters. There does seem to be some special care being taken to lessen the number of civilians injured and killed. Let's hope that there will be enough of a let up that the curfew will be lifted if at all possible in order for humanitarian groups to get in. Be sure to see FRONTLINE tonight 9 PM ET. to pray and to do what you are willing to do. (Blogger)

EXCERPT: The offensive has sparked an exodus of 2.3 million people, according to provincial government figures, but about 200,000 people are believed to be still in the valley - Severe shortages of food, water and medicine are creating a major humanitarian crisis for the trapped civilians, the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said. "People trapped in the Swat conflict zone face a humanitarian catastrophe unless the Pakistani military immediately lifts a curfew that has been in place continuously for the last week," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in a statement.

[Internally displaced people, fleeing a military offensive in the Swat valley, reach for bread ration at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Jalozai camp, about 140 km (87 miles) north west of Pakistan's capital Islamabad May 26, 2009.

ISLAMABAD - Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis trapped by an offensive against Taliban in Swat face catastrophe and authorities should lift a curfew to enable them to get out and for help to get in, a rights group said. (REUTERS/Ali Imam)]Internally displaced people, fleeing a military offensive in the Swat valley, reach for bread ration at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Jalozai camp, about 140 km (87 miles) north west of Pakistan's capital Islamabad May 26, 2009. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis trapped by an offensive against Taliban in Swat face catastrophe and authorities should lift a curfew to enable them to get out and for help to get in, a rights group said. (REUTERS/Ali Imam)
The offensive in the Taliban bastion of Swat, about 120 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad, is the military's most concerted effort to roll back a spreading Taliban insurgency that has thrown the nuclear-armed country's future into question.

The offensive has sparked an exodus of 2.3 million people, according to provincial government figures, but about 200,000 people are believed to be still in the valley.

Severe shortages of food, water and medicine are creating a major humanitarian crisis for the trapped civilians, the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said.

"People trapped in the Swat conflict zone face a humanitarian catastrophe unless the Pakistani military immediately lifts a curfew that has been in place continuously for the last week," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in a statement.

The army launched the offensive this month after the militants, emboldened by a controversial peace deal in Swat, pushed out of the former tourist valley into neighboring districts, including one just 100 km (60 miles) from Islamabad.

The United States needs Pakistani action against militants in its northwest to defeat al Qaeda and disrupt support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. It had criticized the pact as tantamount to "abdicating" to the militants as thousands of extra U.S. troops are arriving in Afghanistan.

General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, who arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an interview he welcomed Pakistan's willingness to "very aggressively prosecute the campaign."

"It bodes much better for Pakistan," he said.

But the flight of so many civilians poses a major burden for an economy being kept afloat by a $7.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan and could undercut public backing for the military action.

Human Rights Watch said the government should take all possible measures including air drops to alleviate suffering and both sides should allow a humanitarian corridor through which civilians could escape and aid groups could help.

The United Nations was considering asking for a "humanitarian pause" to get aid in, a U.N. official said on Monday.

But military spokesmen Major-General Athar Abbas said that would not be possible, although he added that supplies were getting through to civilians as the army cleared more areas.

"Lifting the curfew would mean letting the operational situation slip out of hand," Abbas said, adding civilian casualties had been "minimal."

More than half of Swat's main town of Mingora had been cleared and trucks with provisions were arriving there, he said.

"IN DISARRAY"

Twenty-nine militants had been killed in the previous 24 hours, Abbas told a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, while six soldiers had also been killed. Fierce fighting had been going on in some areas and the militants' morale was low.

"They're in disarray and finding ways to sneak out," he said.

In the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, army helicopter gunships attacked Taliban positions, killing six militants, intelligence officials and residents said.

Speculation has been mounting that the army would soon turn its attention to South Waziristan, the headquarters of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and a major base area for his Afghan Taliban allies battling Western forces in Afghanistan.

South Waziristan has been a militant hub for years and the United States and Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government have long pressed Pakistan to root out militants from border strongholds.

Tension has been building since President Asif Ali Zardari told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper last week ago that the military would move into Waziristan after clearing Swat.

Although he was reported to have later denied that, military officials say an offensive in South Waziristan looks inevitable. With tension rising, about 10,000 people have fled from South Waziristan in recent days, a senior government official said.

The violence has worried stock market investors. The main index ended a marginal 0.05 percent up at 7,176.89 points.

But dealers said stocks should get a boost on Wednesday after the Supreme Court ruled after the close that popular former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his politician brother can contest elections, removing a cause of political uncertainty.

(Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani, Zeeshan Haider, Augustine Anthony and Kamran Haider; Editing by Paul Tait)
© 2009 Reuters

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Military apologizes for civilian casualties in Swat

here (Swatvalley dot org blog and Dawn dot com)

2 comments:

Connie L. Nash said...

To:
newlease7@yahoo.com

26 May 2009 – Clashes between Government forces and militants in north-west Pakistan are continuing to uproot people from their homes, with nearly 130,000 people being registered daily as displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The agency said today that provincial government authorities have noted that the number of uprooted from the Swat, Lower Dir and Buner districts registered in a fast-track process since 2 May has now reached almost 2.4 million people. However, UNHCR cautioned that these figures are being verified and could change.

Currently, the federal Government and provincial authorities are discussing how to provide further aid to internally displaced persons (IDPs) beyond the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters.

“Many people are still reportedly stranded in the conflict zones,” he said, adding that the curfew in effect in the area is lifted for only several hours, with roads becoming quickly congested with people rushing to escape the area.

The fare for a bus ride from Mingora, in Swat District, to Mardan town to the south has tripled from 2,000 rupees, or $24, to 6,000 rupees, or $74, according to those who have fled.

Mr. Redmond said that his agency is working with the Government to build separate shaded communal areas for men and women in several camps to provide access to cool areas. In sectors where there is electricity, these spaces have electric water coolers and fans, among other items.

Along with its partner agencies, UNHCR has begun distributing bricks to families to build individual kitchen stoves – to allow them to cook their own meals with rations from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) – in some camps. Until now, they had been eating cooked meals distributed by the Government.

“At the same time, UNHCR continues to witness many acts of generosity from the Pakistani community towards their fellow citizens,” Mr. Redmond said, noting that one private donor contributed food packages for over 2,000 people in Jalozai camp, which now houses a further 50,000 newly displaced people since 2 May.

Meanwhile, others are donating food, clothes and mattresses to thousands of families taking refuge in schools, he said. One woman who now lives in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, but is originally from Mardan, travels every weekend to her hometown to bring cash, clothes and tea she collects from her friends to give to the displaced people, Mr. Redmond reported.

UNHCR is also boosting assistance to people living in schools in Mardan and Swabi districts, and is also planning to help the many uprooted people sheltering with relatives, friends or in rental accommodations.

Over the weekend, 36 tons of relief supplies – tents, plastic rolls, kitchen sets, jerry cans, soap, generators, water tanks and purification equipment – were airlifted to Islamabad by the Italian Government and donated to UNHCR.

Additionally, a UNHCR relief bank in Nowshera has been receiving in-kind donations, such as sleeping mats and water coolers, from private donors.

Mr. Redmond said that the agency is continuing to purchase more supplies within Pakistan and to ship items from its stockpiles around the world, but underscored that it “urgently needs funds to accelerate the purchase of relief supplies for its operation.”

Last Friday, the UN and its partners launched a $543 million appeal to help the nearly 2 million people who have escaped the violence in NWFP.

In a statement, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern that “Pakistan is currently witnessing rapid displacement on a massive scale.”

UN News Centre
--
HREA - www.hrea.org (free emails are a huge help to human rights activists/journalists)

Connie L. Nash said...

MIDDAY Report May 27, 2009 EST

"...In Swat, meanwhile, there has been no respite for residents from violence.

The Pakistani military claimed on Wednesday to have taken back Mingora, the valley's main city.

Hameedullah Khan, an Al Jazeera producer and one of the first journalists into the area, said: "The military are saying they have killed 268 Taliban in Mingora city and they said the militants have fled to the mountains, upwards."

While shops and buildings have been destroyed, he said the destruction did not appear to be as bad as Mingora's residents - most of whom had fled the fighting - had feared.

"Mingora is totally calm now, there's no one in the city. You will find only the military men standing alert on the streets of Mingora," he said." AP Wires