Pakistan

Two dead as Pakistani soldiers and refugees clash: officials

PESHAWAR: At least two civilians were killed and 10 wounded after Pakistani soldiers fired on internal refugees displaced by a military operation against the Taliban, an official said Monday.

The incident on Sunday evening comes a year after the army began a major offensive in North Waziristan tribal area to wipe out militant strongholds, which it has hailed as a resounding success.

According to a senior security official who declined to be named, a clash broke out when a boy was asked to register as he left a camp in Bannu, a major centre for people forced from their homes by the fighting.

“When his father came, during the process of registration, there was exchange of harsh words and a brawl between security officials and the man,” the official said.

“After this brawl, he went inside the camp and brought many people with him who started protesting outside the camp and also hurling stones on the soldiers.”

The official said two refugees were shot dead in the ensuing clash, a death toll confirmed by three civilian administrators who also declined to be named.

The security official added that 10 refugees were wounded, as were four soldiers.

Civilian casualties have been a controversial topic during the anti-Taliban offensive. The conflict zone has been off-limits to media, making it hard to verify the identity of those killed independently.

Ghairatullah, a 39-year-old cattle herder displaced by the military operation who lives in the camp, blamed the army for allowing the situation to escalate.

“A soldier began beating one of the guys. It created anger among the locals. And they tried to restrain him. Then the rest of the soldiers joined in with the beating and it spread panic,” he said.

“We were helpless, we had nothing. We picked up stones and threw them at the soldiers to stop them beating our friends but they began firing and started killing us,” he added.

Bushra Gohar, a local politician and rights activist, said the killings punctured the government’s triumphant narrative regarding the North Waziristan operation.

“There are still over a million IDPs (internally displaced persons) living in miserable conditions away from their homes, with no signs of reconstruction or rehabilitation of their destroyed homes and livelihoods,” she told AFP.

She added that the Taliban’s main leaders remained at large, and called for a parliamentary review of the offensive with greater media access to the war zone. – AFP

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