Geneva: The UN refugee agency says half a million people have fled fighting in northwestern Pakistan in the past few days, bringing the total displaced in recent months to 1million.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says the fighting has led to massive displacement in the area.
Ron Redmond says up to 200,000 people have arrived in safe areas in the past few days and that another 300,000 are on the move or are about to flee.
Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday that the numbers are in addition to 555,000 already counted by the UN since August.
Trapped Pakistanis plead for way out
Pakistani jets screamed over a Taliban-controlled town on Friday and bombed suspected militant positions as desperate residents appealed for a pause in the fighting so they could escape.
Pakistan has launched at least a dozen operations in the border region in recent years, but most ended inconclusively and after massive destruction and significant civilian deaths. It remains a haven for Al-Qaida and Taliban militants, foreign governments say.
To end one of those protracted offensives, the government signed a peace accord in Swat that provided for Islamic law in the region. But that deal began unraveling last month when Swat Taliban fighters moved into Buner, a neighbouring district just 100 kilometers from Islamabad.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appealed for international assistance late on Thursday for the growing refugee crisis and vowed to defeat the militants in the latest operation.
“I appeal to the people of Pakistan to support the government and army at this crucial time,” Gilani said in a television address. “We pledge to eliminate the elements who have destroyed the peace and calm of the nation and wanted to take Pakistan hostage at gunpoint.”
The military hailed signs of the public’s mood shifting against the Taliban after the militants used the peace deal to regroup and advance.
Still, the pro-Western government will face a stiff task to keep a skeptical nation behind its security forces. The exodus from Swat adds to the more than 500,000 already displaced by fighting elsewhere in Pakistan’s volatile border region with Afghanistan.
Military operations are taking place in three districts that stretch over some 1,000 square kilometers. Much of the fighting has been in the Swat Valley’s main city of Mingora, a militant hub that was home to around 360,000 people before the insurgency two years ago.