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UN Appeals for Urgent Aid for Pakistanis Displaced by Army Offensive Against Taliban

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is appealing to the international community for more than $600 million for millions of  Pakistanis displaced by fighting between the army and the Taliban militants. He said the world must give assistance, not out of generosity, but also in self-interest. VOA reports new fighting in a region dominated by militants reportedly is forcing more people from their homes.

Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud is the target of a new offensive the army says it is planning in the tribal region of South Waziristan.
 
"The government has taken a principled decision to launch a military operation against Baitullah Mehsud and his network," General Athar Abbas, a Pakistani military spokesman said.

Local reports from South Waziristan say some residents have already fled their homes after reports of clashes in the region.

In all, more than two million people have fled fighting in the country, many of them displaced by the ongoing battle between the army and the Taliban in Swat valley.

Tuesday, at a news conference in Washington, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the new offensive in Waziristan will further complicate the problem.

"We are still concerned with the future developments in Waziristan and the implications of the Waziristan operation in relation to a further displacement in an even more complex area to provide assistance," he said.

Guterres said the refugee problem in Pakistan has all the elements of an impending disaster that could have impact beyond the country's borders.

He said the government in Pakistan is fully aware that if the displaced people are not given timely relief, the public could turn its anger toward the government. 

"Everybody that I spoke to was very clear, saying a failure to deliver a proper humanitarian assistance to this population can turn into a disaster for the country," Guterres said. "With some implications that go far beyond the borders of the country."

He said the main challenge for Pakistan is the speed by which the number of displaced people is going up every day.

And he added that Pakistan will need more help when Swat valley residents begin to return home.

Overall, the UN reports that the number of people forcibly uprooted in the world stood at 42 million in 2008, and the number is already on the rise in 2009.  

Pointing to refugees from countries like Somalia, the UN High Commissioner said some 80 percent of the people uprooted in the world are in developing nations.  And he said that amid the global economic downturn, wealthy nations are growing increasingly reluctant to grant asylum to the displaced.
 

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