Page last updated at 10:56 GMT, Thursday, 21 May 2009 11:56 UK

Pakistan in humanitarian aid plea

Displaced children in Pakistan
Pakistan says there is an "urgent need for a comprehensive response"

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has appealed for urgent cash aid to help up to two million people who have fled fighting with the Taliban.

Addressing international donors in Islamabad, Mr Gilani warned the mass exodus had "grave repercussions".

The UN says that about 1.5 million people have been displaced since the army's latest offensive began on 2 May, and two million since last August.

The donors have so far responded with pledges of $224m, officials said.

The fighting continues, with at least seven people killed in Lower Dir.

'Concrete and visible'

"Given the magnitude of the task that lies ahead, the government of Pakistan would like to seek the support from the donor community, both for the ongoing relief efforts and for the rebuilding process," the prime minister said.

Yusuf Raza Gilani
We have to win the hearts and minds of the people
Yusuf Raza Gilani

"There is an urgent need for a joint and comprehensive response to this issue by all those who are committed to fighting terrorism. We need to do something concrete and visible."

Mr Gilani said that a special prime minister's fund had been established for the internally displaced and called for domestic and international donations.

The US has praised Pakistan's latest efforts to fight what some in Washington have described as an "existential threat" to the country caused by the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

International donors have pledged $224m for the relief and rehabilitation of those displaced in North West Frontier Province, $110m from the US.

Pakistan has immediately allocated $25m to the NWFP government for relief efforts, but critics warn that is not enough to provide adequate reconstruction and law enforcement.

Ministers say the UN will launch an urgent appeal on Friday in a bid to raise further money.

Correspondents say that as the conflict ploughs on, concerns are mounting about how to cope with the huge number of displaced people, uprooted in what human rights groups have described as Pakistan's largest movement of people since partition from India in 1947.

A senior US military official based in Islamabad said the crisis could last until December because the authorities expected large numbers of displaced people to remain in temporary camps until the end of the year.

Explosive device

In the latest fighting, at least seven people have been killed in two separate incidents in in the district of Lower Dir, officials say.

Four militants and three security personnel, including an army officer, died.

The first incident took place in a mountainous part of the Shahi Koto area, when a security force convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device on the main road.

"Three people were killed in the attack," a local official in Dir told the BBC. "Two more were injured and one of them is in critical condition."

Soldier in Buner
The army says that it is gaining the upper hand in Buner

The second incident involved clashes between militants and security forces in the Qambar area.

The incidents took place two days after security forces claimed to have taken complete control of Dir district.

In Swat, the army says that about 15,000 members of the security forces are fighting between 4,000 and 5,000 militants.

It says more than 1,000 militants and more than 50 soldiers have been killed.

There has been no independent confirmation of the casualties - communications with the few remaining local people still in Swat have been seriously disrupted.

The army say that after clearing Taliban strongholds and supply depots in Swat's mountains, soldiers are battling militants in towns where many thousands of civilians are believed to be hiding.

The army is also conducting a big offensive against Taliban militants in Buner.

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was "encouraged" by the army's offensive.

Appearing before a Congressional committee on Wednesday she said that the Pakistani government was taking more positive action than previously and its action was backed by opposition parties.

"If you look at the political support today, the statements that are being made by the prime minister and others in support of the military's action against the Taliban - we've never seen anything quite like this before.

"That does not guarantee the outcome, but it certainly is, to some extent, reassuring that the government and opposition are now united in their recognition of the threat posed by extremism."


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