Friday, May 8, 2009

Taliban uses 'human shields' in army battle - Irish Independent

By Isambard Wilkinson and Ashfaq Yusufzai

The Taliban has begun holding civilians as "human shields" as its battle with the Pakistani military over the control of the Swat valley intensifies.

Pakistani paramilitary are maintaining a position on a high post in the troubled area of Pakistan's Lower Dir district.

Militants have erected roadblocks in the areas where soldiers launched an offensive earlier this week after a peace deal unravelled. Thousands of women and children were yesterday waiting on the roadsides near Swat's main town, Mingora, to migrate to safer places and the escape the military operations.

Khushhal Khan, senior government official in Swat, said: "The Taliban are using the people as shields. The Taliban aren't allowing people to go through the checkpoints in Kanju and the surrounding areas."

Ayaz Khan, a 39-year-old from the Kanju area of Swat, said he loaded his family into his car but that rocks, boulders and tree trunks had been laid across the roads, forcing him to turn back.
"I am helpless, frustrated and worried for my family," he said. He appealed to the authorities to clear the barriers and let people move to safety.

The Taliban employed the same tactic in the neighbouring district of Buner, which militants from Swat overran last month. They reportedly kept 2,000 villagers hostage to act as human shields against military operations.

The military has relied heavily on aircraft attacks and mortar and the number of civilian casualties is already high. Yesterday 36 civilians were officially recognised as having been killed in the crossfire.

In the past three days more than 40,000 people have fled from Swat, in the North West Frontier Province.

The provincial government expects another half million people to become refugees because of the fighting.

More than 500,000 people have already been 'internally displaced' in the province due to fighting over the past year.

In Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, a suicide bomber on a motorbike struck a foreign convoy yesterday, killing 12 civilians and wounding 30 people, a spokesman said.

Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for the governor of Helmand Province, said the attack took place in the town of Gereshk, located on a major highway.

He could not say if any foreign troops from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were hurt or killed.

Violence has been rising sharply in recent years as an insurgency gathers strength in southern and eastern Afghanistan, a trend the US hopes to stem with a huge surge in troop numbers this year.

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