- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 18, 2010

ISLAMABAD | Militants exploiting the flooding chaos in Pakistan clashed with police overnight, authorities said Wednesday, as desperately needed international donations for the millions of victims picked up pace three weeks after the deluge began.

Pakistani senior meteorologist Arif Mahmood said floodwaters won’t fully recede until the end of the month, and existing river torrents were still heading to major cities such as Hyderabad and Sukkur in the south.

But he said no heavy rains were forecast this week — “good news for aid agencies involved in the rescue and relief operations.”

So far, the floods have submerged tens of thousands of villages, killed about 1,500 people and affected 20 million others, authorities say. The floods hit first in the northwest, wiping out much of its infrastructure, and then the bloated rivers gushed toward the south and east, displacing millions more people.

About a fifth of Pakistan’s territory has been affected.

The northwest is the epicenter of Pakistan’s fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and attacks by militants late Tuesday and overnight highlighted the threat they still pose.

A group of militants first killed two members of an anti-Taliban militia in the Adezai area of Peshawar as they headed to pray at a mosque late Tuesday, said Peshawar Police Chief Liaquat Ali Khan.

In the hours afterward, dozens of militants from the Khyber tribal region, which lies near Peshawar and along the Afghan border, attacked police posts in Peshawar’s Sarband area.

The two sides exchanged fire for about an hour before the militants retreated to Khyber, Chief Khan said. Several militants were killed, but there were no police casualties.

“As the police force is busy in rescue and relief work for flood affectees, militants tried to take advantage of the situation to attack Peshawar, but the police force was fully alert and vigilant,” Chief Khan said.

The Pakistani Taliban have urged citizens to reject any foreign aid, saying it will only be stolen by the political elite in the impoverished nation of 175 million.

The United Nations appealed last week for $459 million in international aid for immediate relief to Pakistan.

Aid groups have complained that the response so far has been anemic, but U.N. spokesman Maurizio Giuliano announced Wednesday that more than half of the money — 54.5 percent — had come in.

“This is very encouraging,” he said.

Still, he said major challenges remained, especially preventing what he feared may be “a second wave” of death from disease and hunger. He also said rescue workers were trying to procure more plastic sheeting and tents for an estimated 4.6 million people in Punjab and Sindh who have no shelter.

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