Donations needed to help 1.5 million displaced Pakistanis, officials say
Swat Valley offensive making headway, says military
Clashes between Pakistani Taliban and the army continued on Tuesday, reportedly killing at least 29 militants, as government officials scrambled to care for more than 1.5 million people who have been displaced by escalating violence in the Swat Valley.
The United Nations said the displacement levels in the northwest Pakistan valley could rival the speed and size of the displacement caused by the Rwanda genocide.
Lt.-Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, who leads a group given the task of with dealing with the uprooted Pakistanis, said Tuesday the government has enough flour and other food for the displaced.
"We're trying to establish a supply chain through which we can send food at regular intervals to those in embattled areas," Ahmed said. "We are also looking for areas which are close to the fighting areas, where no aid agencies are willing to go, where food can be supplied through the army."
Donations of fans and high-energy biscuits are needed at the at least 22 relief camps operating in the country, he said.
The UN released new estimates on Monday that indicated almost 1.5 million people had been forced to flee their homes in May as the Pakistani military pushed forward in an effort to eliminate militants from the Swat and two neighbouring districts.
"It has been a long time since there has been a displacement this big," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency.
Earlier offensives in the Swat Valley had caused at least 550,000 other people to flee. Ahmed said that it is believed about 230,000 of those people have returned to the Banjur tribal region.
In trying to recall another such displacement in so short a period, Redmond said, "it could go back to Rwanda" — a reference to the 1994 massacre of ethnic Tutsis by the majority Hutus in the African country. The genocide displaced some 2 million people.
'Not a replacement home'
The UN refugee agency said it has registered 130,950 people in displacement camps. Many others are believed to be staying with relatives, host families or in rented accommodation, officials said.
Ahmed said the refugees would get money and free transport when it was safe for them to return home.
A "camp is not a replacement for home," Ahmed told reporters.
A failure to respond to dramatic level of displaced people could generate further instability in Pakistan, said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who also called for international aid for Pakistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a $100 million U.S. aid package for Pakistan refugees on Tuesday.
Pakistan has been under intense international pressure to combat al-Qaeda and Taliban militants threatening Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan. The U.S. has praised the country's efforts.
Headway being made, military says
On Tuesday, the army said its operation to clear Swat was "making headway as planned."
Infantry troops are pushing into the main towns in the region after three weeks of aerial bombings, said army spokesman Maj.-Gen. Athar Abbas.
The army wants a "quick and speedy operation so we can clear the area and allow the internally displaced people to return," Abbas said.
Military officials said troops were engaged in firefights in the towns of Matta and Kanju on Tuesday.
Battles were also occurring near strategic bridges in the area near Piochar, which is the stronghold of Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah, the military said.
At least 29 militants were killed in Tuesday's fighting, officials said. Four Pakistani soldiers also died and 16 were wounded.
No official figures regarding civilian casualties have been released since the military offensive began. Fighting intensified last month after a peace deal between the regional government and hardline cleric Sufi Muhammad failed to take hold, and a military operation was launched to expel Taliban from their stronghold in the Swat.
The deal would have allowed for Islamic courts in the valley in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. By April, it was clear the Taliban would not lay down arms after the cleric complained of government inaction in implementing Islamic law.
With files from The Associated Press