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200,000 civilians flee Pakistan military offensive

More than 200,000 people have fled Pakistan's latest offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest, the United Nations said as fresh clashes in the remote region killed 41 insurgents and six soldiers.
/ Source: The Associated Press

More than 200,000 people have fled Pakistan's latest offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest, the United Nations said as fresh clashes in the remote region killed 41 insurgents and six soldiers.

Elsewhere in the northwest, a suspected U.S. missile killed five alleged militants in a house in North Waziristan, the latest in a series of strikes in the region, Pakistani officials said Monday. North Waziristan is home to al-Qaida and Taliban commanders, many of whom play a role in the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

The military has pounded the Orakzai tribal region with airstrikes and artillery in an attempt to rout insurgents from the rugged, mountainous area near the Afghan border. Many Taliban fighters fled to Orakzai last year to escape a separate army offensive in their tribal stronghold of South Waziristan.

The exodus of civilians from Orakzai adds to the more than 1.3 million people driven from their homes by fighting in the northwest and unable to return.

The U.N. warned Monday it faces a severe shortfall in funding needed to aid those displaced, saying it has only received about $106 million, or 20 percent, of the $538 million appeal it launched in February for the next six months. Last year, the U.N. had received 40 percent of its appeal by this time, it said.

Martin Mogwanja, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, said some aid groups providing water, food, health care and sanitation for the displaced were having to scale down their activities.

Funding levels have been lower this year because of the recent financial crisis and the large amounts of aid directed to help Haiti recover from a recent, devastating earthquake, said Mogwanja.

Pakistan received significant international attention last spring when more than 1 million people fled a military offensive in the Swat valley. Most of those people have returned home, but the number of displaced in the country has remained high as the military has targeted other areas.

Some 210,000 people have fled Orakzai since the fighting first started at the end of last year, including nearly 50,000 people who left in the last month as the military has intensified its offensive in the area, said the U.N.

The latest violence in Orakzai occurred Monday when dozens of militants armed with rockets and automatic weapons attacked two security checkpoints in the villages of Shireen Dara and Sangrana, local administrator Saaid. Security forces successfully repelled the attack, but six soldiers were killed and three others wounded, he said.

"More than 100 militants attacked the security checkpoint in Shireen Dara," Khan said. "They fought a gunbattle for two hours and fired several rockets."

After the battles subsided, authorities found the bodies of 15 militants around the two checkpoints, said two intelligence officials. Insurgents removed the bodies of at least 26 others who were killed, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

More than 300 suspected militants have been killed in Orakzai since mid-March, including 10 on Sunday when fighter jets destroyed three militant hide-outs in Sangram village, Khan said.

Government reports are almost impossible to independently verify because journalists are prohibited from traveling to the country's semiautonomous tribal areas.

Monday's missile hit a house close to Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, said two intelligence officials on customary condition of anonymity. Five suspected militants were killed, they said.

The United States has carried out scores of missile attacks in the northwest over the last 18 months, killing many alleged insurgents. Some independent experts and rights groups have alleged many civilians have also died. Independent reporting of the attacks is impossible.


Associated Press writer Hussain Afzal contributed to this report from Parachinar.