PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Pakistan relaxed its curfew on the northwestern Swat valley to allow more than 100,000 civilians to flee fighting between government troops and Taliban militants, officials said.
The curfew was to be eased in Swat and Malakand from 6:00 am to 1:00 pm (midnight to 0700 GMT), an official statement said, advising residents from the main town of Mingora and nearby areas to leave.
“We expect more than 100,000 people will quit their homes at different places in Swat today,” local administration chief Khushhal Khan told AFP.
The UN refugee agency has warned up to one million people have already been displaced in northwest Pakistan, with tens of thousands streaming out of Buner, Lower Dir and Swat, registering in camps or sheltering with families.
The government has said it was bracing to cope with half a million people displaced by the fighting.
Thousands of Pakistani troops backed by warplanes and helicopter gunships are involved in the massive operation against Taliban and extremist fighters in the area, where jet fighters were pounding suspected rebel hideouts.
The entry of vehicles into Mingora would not be allowed during the seven-hour curfew break but vehicles leaving the valley would not be stopped, it said.
Khan said the government had made no arrangements for the transportation of the more than 100,000 civilians expected to flee Sunday, but had set up five more camps in North West Frontier Province where the displaced will be lodged.
Pakistani security forces mounted operations across three districts late last month after the hardline Taliban advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Saturday that the army would minimise civilian casualties while the government would look after those displaced by the conflict.