In Pakistan, tens of thousands of people have answered the government’s call to leave the Swat Valley, the scene of intense fighting between the army and Taliban militants.
Bringing only what they could carry, residents were taking advantage of a temporary lift in the curfew to flee to safety. They headed for the UNHCR camp at Jalala. An estimated 500,000 people are expected there, in addition to the half a million who have fled the region since last August. “We have called upon the parties to the conflict, various factions, but also the government, to take all the necessary measures to protect civilians and today their situation is critical: water, food, sanitation are critical, people are wounded because of fighting, so there is a very difficult situation inside the fighting zone,” said an ICRC spokesman. Pakistan wants to stop a growing Taliban insurgency in the Swat Valley, which is only 130 kilometres from the capital, Islamabad. The army says around 200 rebels have been killed in recent days although independent confirmation of this is impossible. The offensive was launched last week while President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington, assuring the US government he was committed to fighting militancy.