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UN Suspends Development Work In Northwest Pakistan

Pakistani policemen secure the site of a sucide bomb blast in Rawalpindi.
(RFE/RL) -- The United Nations says it is suspending long-term development work in two war-ravaged areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan because of security concerns.

A UN statement said the decision applies to Pakistan's tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. That encompasses two areas that have been at the center of heavy fighting between Pakistani troops and Islamic militants, namely South Waziristan and the Swat Valley.

The United Nations said the withdrawal of all staff engaged in development projects in northwest Pakistan is effective "immediately."

The announcement comes as a bloody wave of militant bomb attacks on civilian targets in Pakistan continues. Some 300 people have been killed in the attacks, while the United Nations has lost 11 staff members killed in various incidents this year.

The UN statement said it will reduce the level of international staff and confine its work to emergency and humanitarian relief, and security operations. A UN spokeswoman said officials are still determining which programs will be suspended and how many staffers will be withdrawn.

Bombing Campaign

The move comes after last month's suicide bombing at the UN's World Food Program compound in Islamabad, which left five aid workers dead. It also led to the temporary closure of distribution centers serving more than 2 million people in the northwestern Swat Valley.

On November 2, an explosion killed at least 30 people in the Pakistan Army's headquarters garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Militants seem certain to be behind the suicide bombing, which is the latest in a line of attacks on Pakistani cities since troops opened a major offensive in the Swat Valley earlier this year.

The Swat offensive drove out Taliban militants and their Al-Qaeda allies, and the army began a new offensive in October in the South Waziristan tribal area, which is still continuing.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told journalists on November 1 that the Waziristan push is going better than expected, with less resistance than foreseen.

He described the militants as being "on the run", and he said the army basically hopes to have the campaign wrapped up by the time the heavy snows arrive.

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities are offering rewards worth $5 million for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and 18 other militants.

The rewards have been widely publicized in the media, with advertisements saying the wanted men are daily involved in activities that cause the deaths of innocent Muslims.

compiled from agency reports