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Fighting erupts in Pakistan as peace deal crumbles

 Local residents prepare to board into a vehicle to flee from the area in Mingora, the main of town of Pakistan Swat Valley, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Tal...
 Local residents sit on the rooftop of a bus to flee from the area in Mingora, the main of town of Pakistan Swat Valley, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Taliban...
 Local residents flee from the area in Mingora, the main of town of Pakistan Swat Valley, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Taliban militants patrolled the street...
  Local residents of Mingora, capital of troubled valley of Swat are seen at a bus terminal as they leave the city, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Taliban mili...
  A local child of Mingora, capital of troubled valley of Swat, Pakistan waits for a transport to leave the city, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Taliban milita...

Pakistan

Local residents prepare to board into a vehicle to flee from the area in Mingora, the main of town of Pakistan Swat Valley, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Tal...

Pakistan

Local residents sit on the rooftop of a bus to flee from the area in Mingora, the main of town of Pakistan Swat Valley, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Taliban...

Pakistan

Local residents flee from the area in Mingora, the main of town of Pakistan Swat Valley, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Taliban militants patrolled the street...

CORRECTION Pakistan

Local residents of Mingora, capital of troubled valley of Swat are seen at a bus terminal as they leave the city, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Taliban mili...

CORRECTION Pakistan

A local child of Mingora, capital of troubled valley of Swat, Pakistan waits for a transport to leave the city, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Taliban milita...

Taliban militants and security forces battled for control of a northwestern Pakistani town Wednesday as residents hunkered down in their homes ahead of an expected major offensive.
Thousands of men, women and children have fled Mingora and surrounding districts, the first wave of a refugee exodus the government fears could reach 500,000.
The collapse of a 3-month-old truce in the Swat Valley with the Taliban means Pakistan will have to evict the insurgents by force, testing the ability of its stretched military and the resolve of civilian leaders who until recently were insisting the insurgents could be partners in peace.
An Associated Press reporter in Mingora said gun and mortar fire started Tuesday and continued through the night into Wednesday morning.
Dawn News reported that helicopter gunships were attacking militant positions in the town and that more troops had been deployed there.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas declined to say whether the events heralded the start of major operations, saying only that "all the contingency plans are worked out" for carrying one out.
The developments brought Islamabad's faltering campaign against militancy into sharp focus as President Asif Ali Zardari was preparing for talks Wednesday in Washington with President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on how best to counter an increasingly overlapping spectrum of extremist groups behind surging violence in the neighboring countries.
The Obama administration hopes to build a strong and lasting regional alliance, linking success in Afghanistan with security in Pakistan. Toward that end, the administration is encouraging Pakistan to confront _ not make peace with _ the Taliban and other militants.
"We need to put the most heavy possible pressure on our friends in Pakistan to join us in the fight against the Taliban and its allies," Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a congressional committee Tuesday. "We cannot succeed in Afghanistan without Pakistan's support and involvement."
In an interview with CNN, Zardari defended his country's ability to fight the militants within its borders. "It doesn't work like that. They can't take over," he said. "How can they take over?"
Fearing that war could consume the region, thousands fled the main Swat town of Mingora on Tuesday. Refugees clambered onto the roofs of buses after seats and floors filled up. Children and adults alike carried belongings on their heads and backs.
"I do not have any destination. I only have an aim _ to escape from here," said Afzal Khan, 65, who was waiting for a bus with his wife and nine children. "It is like doomsday here. It is like hell."
Shafi Ullah, a student, said the whole town was fleeing.
"Can you hear the explosions? Can you hear the gunshots?" he said, pointing to a part of town where fighting was continuing.
Pakistan agreed to a truce in the valley and surrounding districts in February after two years of fighting with militants who had beheaded political opponents and burned scores of girls schools in their campaign to implement a harsh brand of Islam modeled on their counterparts in Afghanistan.
As part of the agreement, the government imposed Islamic law last month in the hope that insurgents would lay down their arms _ something they did not do.
Last week, the Taliban moved from their stronghold in the valley into Buner, a district just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the capital. That caused alarm at home and abroad.
The army responded with an offensive it says has killed more than 100 militants and was "progressing smoothly" Tuesday, according to a brief statement.


Updated : 2021-02-25 16:36 GMT+08:00