Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bajaur declared conflict-free zone

The government has declared Bajaur tribal region as ‘conflict free zone’ and asked the 27,000 internally displaced families from the areas to return to their homes.

Secretary Fata (Security) Tariq Hayat Khan said during a press briefing that Bajaur, which was notified as ‘conflict zone’ had been de-notified and all IDPs could now go back to their homes. The army remained engaged with militants for more than 20 months to flush them out.

“People of Bajaur are now free and can go to their area,” Mr Khan said, adding that formal return process of displaced families would start from April 30.

He said that return programme of the IDPs from Mohmand tribal region had already been started and they were going back voluntarily.

The government, however, has declared Loi Sam area as security corridor and its bona fide residents could not resettle there. An official said that government had placed ban on building residences within 100 yards on both sides of the road.

The decision, he said, would affect about 600 families of Tang Khata, Rashakai, Khazana Kosar and Dalay villages.

Security forces had launched operation in Bajaur in August 2008 to eliminate militants and restore eroded writ of the government in the area bordering Afghanistan.

The army had announced in March last that operation had been completed after taking over control of Dama Dola, the last bastion of proscribed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in the area.

Officials said that over 1,800 militants and about 200 soldiers had been killed in the conflict. However, top leaders of Bajaur Taliban including its head Maulana Faqir Mohammad are still at large.

Mr Khan said that security forces had arrested militants in the operation and they were being grilled while a large number of militants had surrendered to the government through tribal jirga.

He said that militants were receiving assistance from abroad and foreign hands were involved in the conflict.

He said that the army-run Special Support Group would look after food distribution while United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would provide transport to IDPs from camps to their villages.

Four humanitarian hubs have been set up in Bajaur and Mohmand from where returning IDPs would get relief goods. These centres have been set up in Khar, Inayat Kallay, Yaka Ghund and Ghalanai.

Mr Khan said that there would be no forced return. He said that post conflict need assessment survey was underway in Mohmand and Bajaur. He said that government would provide assistance till complete rehabilitation of the affected people.

He said that 5,500 displaced families were registered from Mohmand region of which 1,900 had gone back to their homes. The IDPs had been settled in Jalozai, Palosai and Benazir camps.

UN hopes to restart aid after attack in Pakistan

Aid distribution, suspended after twin suicide attacks killed 43 displaced people in northwest Pakistan at the weekend, should resume by the end of the week, the head of the UN's emergency office said on Tuesday.

But other UN and NGO programmes are in danger of being cut or closed because of lack of funding from the international community.

About 300 people, displaced by fighting between the Pakistani army and militants, were queuing for food and shelter assistance at a UN registration point in Kohat district on Saturday when two suicide bombers, dressed in burqas, attacked.

The United Nations subsequently suspended humanitarian operations in Kohat as well as the neighbouring region of Hangu, where it is assisting more than 250,000 people who have fled fighting in Afghan border areas.

Manuel Bessler, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the two displacement camps in Hangu were still “fully operational” but that registration activities and distribution of aid to those outside camps had been suspended.

“The tragedy is not in suspending our activities, but the fact that 43 people were killed. Obviously, we cannot go back to business-as-usual after such a big tragedy. We have to review security arrangements,” Bessler told Reuters by telephone from Islamabad.

“We have a meeting on Wednesday, so I think we will be able to restart our activities before the end of the week.”

He said the United Nations and other international aid agencies working in the area would screen more rigorously at registration and distribution points, and stagger aid handouts to avoid large gatherings.


But while the camps in Hangu and Kohat are operating, overall funding levels for humanitarian assistance is dwindling.

Only about $170 million has been received by the UN and NGOs to meet the needs of the 1.3 million people displaced and two million more just returned home, according to the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, an association of 35 of the largest international NGOs operating in Pakistan.

Programmes involving health and nutrition, hygiene and sanitation and economic assistance are either closing or in danger of closing, possibly affecting more than 1 million people.

Millions of Pakistanis are displaced - living in camps or with host families - as a result of military offensives against al Qaeda-linked Taliban militants that began in 2008.