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U.S. Envoy Asks European, Muslim States To Aid Pakistan

Some 2.5 million have been displaced from Pakistan's northwest amid the fighting.
SHAH MANSOOR CAMP, Pakistan (Reuters) -- U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke has urged European and Muslim nations to help families who have fled the conflict in Pakistan's Swat Valley and avert a humanitarian crisis.

Pakistan launched an offensive to expel Taliban militants from Swat last month in a move welcomed by Western allies worried that the nuclear-armed state was sliding into chaos.

Around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in Swat and other parts of the northwest.

"What I can't stress too highly enough is the job is to get them home, and that requires security and assistance from the rest of the world community," Holbrooke told reporters at the Shah Mansoor Camp, on the outskirts of Swabi town 80 kilometers northwest of Islamabad.

"The reconstruction phase is going to cost as much as the humanitarian phase."

Holbrooke said he would meet Pakistani leaders, including army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, in Islamabad on June 5 to discuss the next phase of holding, securing, and rehabilitating Swat after the operation to clear the valley had been completed.

The army has retaken the main town in Swat, and more than 1,200 militants and 90 soldiers have been killed in the fighting.

Another $200 Million

When he arrived in Islamabad on June 3, President Barack Obama's point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan announced the United States aimed to give Pakistan $200 million, in addition to $110 million already pledged, to aid the displaced.

"I would point out again that the United States is giving almost half of all the aid Pakistan has got so far. That's not right," Holbrooke said.

"Where are the Europeans? Where is the OIC?" Holbrooke said, referring to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which groups together the world's Muslim nations.

The United Nations has launched an appeal to raise $543 million, but Manuel Bessler, head of UN Organization for Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), told reporters in Islamabad that a little more than a fifth had been received so far.

"If we're short of resources, we'll be forced to scale down our operations. Those who suffer first are those who need our assistance at this moment," Bessler said.

Holbrooke spoke with around a dozen grey-bearded elders at the camp to listen to people's worries as they waited impatiently for an all-clear from the government to go home."

"I'm ready to go today," villager Ahmed Bazir told Reuters. "They just put us here in the tents and then they don't care about us. Look at us...we're just sitting here waiting for tea."

The U.S. diplomat also went into a tent occupied by the family of a barber who had abandoned his home and business.

"Everybody here wants to go home," Holbrooke said. "They're out of work, they're out of money, and they're not far from their homes. But to go home they're going to need security.

The camp, along with another across the road, provides shelter for some 20,000 people.

An estimated 90 percent of the destitute have found refuge with host families in the safe areas on the plains below the mountains where the fighting has been concentrated.

Surrender Disguised As Truce

The government first unleashed the army in late April when militants crossed from their Swat stronghold into neighboring Buner Valley, 100 kilometers from the capital.

Holbrooke said the United States was encouraged by the firm action taken by the military after a peace deal reached earlier with the militants had broken down.

Pakistan's parliament had hoped to pacify Swat and neighboring areas by conceding to the militants' demands for the imposition of Islamic Shari'a law.

Holbrooke termed that peace deal a "surrender disguised as a truce", and its failure came as little surprise.