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Ensure civilians are not targeted; HRW tells Pak Govt

By Staff
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New Delhi, Mar 12 (UNI) The Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over reported civilian casualties during fighting in Pakistan's volatile tribal areas along the Afghan border and wants the Pakistan government and Taliban militants to ensure that they are not targeted.

''Given the scant regard in the past of the militants and the Army for the welfare of civilians in fighting in the area, we are concerned about the possible civilian deaths and injuries,'' Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said.

He said the Human Rights Watch has received reports of some civilian deaths and the destruction of property.

However, because the area is a closed military zone and barred to journalists and human rights monitors, it is currently impossible to verify this information, he added.

''The Pakistani army and the militants must not target civilians and must take whatever precautions they can to ensure that civilians are not harmed,'' Mr Adams said in a statement here.

Thousands of civilians have fled their homes since the Pakistani army, backed by helicopter gunships, began operations to put down a rebellion in the town of Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan Agency, on March 3.

The rebellion began when hundreds of militants seized government buildings in Miran Shah in retaliation for the bombing by the Pakistani military two days earlier of an alleged militant sanctuary in nearby Saidgai.

The government reported that 140 people, allegedly all militants, have been killed in the clashes. It has confirmed five military fatalities.

The area is now under indefinite curfew and has limited power, though some telephone lines have been restored since the government regained control of the telephone exchange.

Mr Adams said the government has maintained throughout that the action was part of an "anti-terrorist operation" carried out by the military in aid of the civil administration.

''Journalists and human rights monitors should be allowed into the area as soon as possible to find out what has happened in Miran Shah,'' he said.

The Human Rights Watch said there are also disturbing reports and documentary evidence that armed Taliban supporters in Pakistan's tribal areas have engaged in vigilantism and violent attacks, including murder and public beheadings.

''We condemn these acts and call upon armed groups of Taliban supporters and other Islamists to respect international legal norms,'' Mr Adams added.

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