2 million people have fled fighting as Pakistan bombs its own country


June 22nd, 2009 in Breaking News, World Alerts
REUTERS


ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – About 40,000 Pakistanis are on the move even before a military offensive begins in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, U.N. officials said on Monday, and are headed for communities already stretched to the limit.

Nearly 2 million people have fled fighting in northwest Pakistan, most since early May when the military began an offensive against Taliban insurgents, prompting the United Nations to launch an appeal for $543 million in aid to avert a long-term humanitarian crisis.

About 35 percent of that figure has been reached, U.N. special humanitarian envoy Abdul Aziz Arrukban told Reuters, but the target has taken on a new urgency now that many thousands more displaced can be expected from South Waziristan.

“It should be more, it should be bigger than that number but I believe some countries are working on donations now and hopefully we will get it fairly soon,” said Arrukban, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s humanitarian envoy since 2007.

A Taliban thrust into northwestern Buner district in early April raised fears about the future of nuclear-armed Pakistan, a vital ally for the United States in its battle to defeat al Qaeda and its allies and to stabilize neighboring Pakistan.

The military responded later that month and its main offensive, welcomed in Washington after doubts about Islamabad’s commitment to the fight against militancy, began in earnest in early May in the scenic Swat valley, once a tourist attraction.

Fighter jets have hit targets in South Waziristan in recent days ahead of the latest phase of the offensive, in which the military plans to target Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in his stronghold on the Afghan border.

About 37,000 people had already left their homes in South Waziristan, said Manuel Bessler, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, citing military figures.