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 Dozens of Pakistani Cadets Are Rescued

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PostSubject: Dozens of Pakistani Cadets Are Rescued   Wed Jun 03, 2009 1:28 am

By SABRINA TAVERNISE and IRFAN ASHRAF
Published: June 2, 2009


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan —
Dozens of students and teachers from a military college who were abducted by the Taliban in the mountains of western Pakistan on Monday were freed Tuesday morning, the Pakistani Army said.

Taliban militants had intercepted a convoy carrying the students and teachers as they traveled the mountainous roads from the Razmak Cadet College in North Waziristan to the town of Bannu to the east.

Elsewhere in Pakistan’s strife-torn northwest, relief officials said on Tuesday, thousands of people continued to flee their homes in conflict zones after being pinned down, some in their basements, by weeks of fighting and curfews.

The students’ military college is located along the border of South Waziristan, in a stronghold for several Taliban groups, as well as Al Qaeda fighters. After a month of battling the Taliban in the Swat Valley, the Pakistani military has announced it will begin an operation in the area, and the students were being evacuated for their safety.

Some 80 students and teachers had been told by the local governor to leave early for summer vacation, according to an employee in the college who rode in the convoy who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for his safety.

The convoy of approximately 30 minivans had been accompanied by a local Taliban group for protection, but at around 5 p.m., when the convoy reached a checkpoint at a place called Khajuri, that group left and armed men with another Taliban group approached, the employee said.

He said four armed men waved over their minivan and got on board, arguing with the driver.

When they began asking men to leave the van, women began to weep, he said, and the gunmen ultimately let their van go. They reached the town of Bannu along with seven other vehicles, but about 20 other minivans didn’t make it, he said.

Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said that Pakistani soldiers intercepted the abducted vehicles and students on the road, and that the Taliban had been trying to take the students to South Waziristan, Reuters reported.

“Under cover of the firing, the militants escaped, and we have recovered them all,” General Abbas said, adding 71 students and nine members of staff had been rescued.

While the Pakistani military said that it believed all the students had been freed, Reuters, quoting the college’s principal, Javed Iqbal Piracha, reported that 10 to 15 students appeared to be still missing.

Details about the incident have been murky since the start, with reports on the number of abducted students and teachers ranging from dozens to more than 500.

In the Swat Valley area, international refugee officials said Tuesday that thousands more people had been on the move from villages after a curfew was lifted last weekend when government forces claimed successes against the Taliban including retaking the main city, Mingora.

Some families arriving at a new camp called Sugar Mill in the Charsadda region told workers from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees that they had been living in their basement for a month.

“They said they were about to run out of food when the curfew was finally lifted last Saturday and Sunday and they were told to evacuate the area,” the relief agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

“One family said they ate spinach and bread for 25 days before they were finally able to leave their home for safety. The displaced people cited shortages of food and medicine as major problems for those who remain stranded in the conflict zone."

Some three million people have been displaced since the fighting began in Swat and neighboring Buner early in May — the largest migration since Pakistan was partitioned from India more than 60 years ago. The fact that people were still fleeing the area showed that continued fighting and insecurity was preventing most of them from returning, relief officials said.

Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency in London, said that, according to reports from the Swat and Bunar area, including from people who had left recently, many buildings had been destroyed, some areas were mined and there was no electricity.

Additionally, he said in a telephone interview, military operations were continuing as fighting swirled from area to area. While Red Cross officials had made brief visits, he said, “there is no presence of humanitarian agencies.”


Source: NYtimes
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