U.N.: Pakistan refugees remind of Darfur

A boy drinks at a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan Monday. The U.N. said 360,000 people have fled the Swat region.

Associated Press

A boy drinks at a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan Monday. The U.N. said 360,000 people have fled the Swat region.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The plight of Pakistanis fleeing war in the Swat Valley echoes conditions in such hard-pressed regions as Darfur and the Congo, a U.N. relief official said Monday as thousands more displaced people poured out of the conflict area and strained humanitarian organizations.

The government pressed its weeks-old military campaign against Taliban insurgents and said its troops had killed 700 militants in the past four days, a figure that could not be independently verified.

The flood of displaced people is "approaching the situation we're seeing in Darfur and Congo," Killian Kleinshmidt, a representative of U.N. relief efforts, said Monday. "I'm not saying the consequences for people themselves are as bad. … They are able to flee to places where there are people, food and some capacity to deal."

But humanitarian workers said almost everything is in short supply, including food, water, sanitation, health and education services. The United States announced $4.9 million worth of aid for the refugees, many of whom arrived in the parched camps empty-handed and questioning how they would survive.

The United Nations said 360,000 people have fled the Swat Valley and neighboring Dir and Buner districts in the past four days, in addition to the 500,000 displaced living since last fall in camps.

"We're almost full," said Usman Khan, an official with the Salban Development Organization, a local humanitarian civic group in Mardan. "Now we started another camp nearby that's already got 5,000 or 6,000 people, but that's filling up fast."

Most of the recently displaced are living with friends or relatives rather than stay in the designated camps, the United Nations said.

The current conflict started last month when Taliban insurgents in the northwest region of Pakistan expanded into neighboring areas closer to Islamabad, the capital, after having agreed under the terms of a now-defunct peace deal to put down their weapons.

U.N.: Pakistan refugees remind of Darfur 05/11/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 11, 2009 10:24pm]

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