Black-turbaned militants roamed city streets and seized buildings in a northwestern Pakistan valley on Tuesday as thousands of people fled fighting between the Taliban and troops that the government said could lead to an exodus of half a million people. The Taliban declared the end of their peace deal with the government.
Buses carrying the residents of Mingora, the region's main town, were crammed inside and out: Refugees clambered onto the roofs after seats and floors filled up. Children and adults alike carried their belongings on their heads and backs — all of them fleeing fighting they fear is about to consume the region.
Khushal Khan, the top administrator in Swat, said Taliban militants were roaming the area and laying mines.
A witness in Mingora told an AP reporter that black-turbaned militants were deployed on most streets and on high buildings, and security forces were barricaded in their bases.
Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said the militants were in control of “90 per cent” of the valley. He accused the government of caving to US pressure.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the North West Frontier Province, said up to 500,000 people were expected to flee the valley. Hundreds are already gone, adding to roughly half a million people driven from other regions in the northwest over the last year by fighting between soldiers and insurgents, witnesses said.
Hussain said authorities were releasing emergency funds and preparing six new refugee camps to house them.