The United Nations appealed Friday for $543 million to ease the "incredible suffering" of nearly 2 million refugees from Pakistan's war against Taliban militants. The world body said the money was urgently needed to fund some 165 projects drawn up by U.N. agencies and aid groups to assist civilians fleeing the conflict centered on the northwestern Swat Valley.
"The scale of this displacement is extraordinary in terms of size and speed and has caused incredible suffering," Martin Mogwanja, the acting U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, said in a statement.
"We are calling for generous support from the international community," he said.
An estimated 1.9 million people have fled the fighting in Swat and two neighboring districts since the army launched an offensive last month to halt a Taliban advance toward the capital, Islamabad, following intense U.S. pressure for action against the insurgents. More than 160,000 are staying in sweltering camps just south of the battle zone; the rest have been taken in by relatives. The government said Thursday that foreign donors had already pledged $224 million to help the displaced. It was unclear if those funds would count toward the total sought by the U.N. The army claims it has killed more than 1,000 militants and won back swaths of territory in the Swat region. But it faces stiff resistance from up to 5,000 fighters and has ventured no prediction of when the Taliban will be defeated.
On Thursday, it said five soldiers and an unspecified number of Taliban were killed in battles in several parts of the valley during the previous 24 hours. Seven militants were captured, a military statement said.
In another part of the border region, a suicide car bomber attacked a paramilitary fort in the town of Jandola, killing four soldiers and four civilians, officials said.