Tuesday, November 3, 2009

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan | Refugees from South Waziristan, where fierce fighting continued Monday between government forces and Islamist militants, don’t believe the war in their part of the country is about to end anytime soon.

“It’s been going on for eight years now,” said refugee Gul Nawaz, looking back to 2002, when on-and-off clashes began after al Qaeda militants fled U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan to seek safe haven across the border in Pakistans tribal areas.

Ataullah, another refugee, said there was heavy fighting going on near his village in the Sararogha area, where Pakistani forces sought to seize control of a stronghold of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

“There was a lot of shelling and rocket fire there when I left,” he said.

Thousands of people, officially described as “internally displaced persons,” have fled to Dera Ismail Khan, about 60 miles southwest of Manzar, on the administrative borderline of the South Waziristan tribal zone.

Only the roughest of transportation is available to them, including a sort of motorcycle-powered contraption that can squeeze in a family of up to 10, including women and children.

Refugees fleeing South Waziristan mark yet another development in Pakistan’s battle with the militants based in its border regions, who continued to strike back in Pakistan’s heartland Monday.

A suicide bomber killed 35 people outside a bank in Rawalpindi Monday, a Pakistan suburb, and the United Nations said spreading violence has forced it to start pulling out some expatriate staff and suspend long-term development work in areas along the Afghan border.

Hours after the first blast, another suicide bomber struck in the eastern city of Lahore, blowing up a car at a police checkpoint as officers went to search it. At least seven policemen were injured and two were in critical condition, officials said, according to the Associated Press.

Hundreds have died from more than 10 suicide attacks in the past month throughout Pakistan.

The Pakistan army claimed Monday that it has made further advances against Islamist militants holed up in the South Waziristan.

Maj. Gen Athar Abbas, the military spokesman, told reporters that the troops had captured large quantities of arms and ammunition during the advance, including two factories where improvised explosive devices were being made, but “none of the top leaders have been captured till now.”

Pakistani officials say about 250,000 refugees have registered to receive assistance at Dera Ismail Khan, typically about 5,000 rupees, or $62, a month per family, but no tents or shelter. They are expected to stay with relatives, as is often the case during the winter months.

The total population of South Waziristan is estimated at 500,000, but the fighting is concentrated in areas occupied by the Mehsud tribe,

“My whole village was flattened,” said Gul Marjan, a Mehsud tribesman standing in line in a sports stadium in Dera to be registered for food relief.

Mr. Marjan was referring to Kotkai, the home village of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, which was captured after heavy fighting on Oct. 24, less than a week after the army began its thrust into South Waziristan.

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