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Thousands Flee Aghan Border region

world Updated: Oct 15, 2009 23:42 IST

Streams of civilians packed into cars and trucks to flee the militant stronghold of South Waziristan as the government pounded the area with air strikes ahead of an expected ground offensive against the Taliban along its border with Afghanistan.

Bombing runs over suspected militant hideouts have increased in recent days after a string of bloody attacks on military and civilian targets killed scores of people across Pakistan.

Government officials said the wave of terror was forcing them to take the fight to the insurgents’ heartland. The army, which gave no timeframe for the offensive, has reportedly sent two divisions totaling 28,000 men and blockaded the region.

Fearing the offensive, about 200,000 people have fled South Waziristan since August, a local government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The exodus intensified with the increase in airstrikes. Since the weekend, about 80 vehicles a day have been carrying families past one checkpoint at Chonda on the edge of Dera Ismail Khan, said Naimatullah Khan, a police officer based there.