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Afghans ordered out of troubled Pakistan region

Written by: Staff

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, Mar 13 (Reuters) Authorities in a Pakistani tribal region troubled by Islamist militants said today that thousands of Afghans thought to be living there must leave and return home.

The North Waziristan tribal area bordering Afghanistan has been the scene of military strikes this month in which officials say nearly 200 pro-Taliban militants have been killed.

Officials have blamed unrest in the region on Afghans, thought to number several thousand, who took up residence there since the Soviet occupation of their country in the 1980s.

Today, local state radio broadcast messages saying the Afghans must go.

The top government official in North Waziristan, Political Agent Zaheerul Islam, said Afghans had been given deadlines to leave two or three times last year but had not done so.

''Now they are not Afghan refugees but foreigners and must leave North Waziristan immediately,'' he told Reuters.

''Severe action will be taken if they don't do so,'' he said, without elaborating.

Many of Afghans in North Waziristan have built homes and set up businesses in the area. Others work as farm labourers.

Today saw a second day of relative peace in Miranshah, capital of North Waziristan, after the military said security forces killed up to 30 pro-Taliban militants and local supporters in a village about 10 km (six miles) to the west on Friday night.

A curfew imposed nine days ago was further relaxed on Monday, allowing people to leave their homes for eight daylight hours to shop for essential provisions, but many shops remained closed.

Many residents who fled their homes after the violence erupted in early March have begun to return since authorities began relaxing the curfew on Friday. ''We are coming back because it is peaceful now,'' one said.

Announcements made via loudspeakers on government vehicles and from mosques urged local government employees, school teachers and bank employees to return to their jobs.

Pakistani forces have been trying to clear out foreign militants from Waziristan since 2004 and the latest violance erupted just before a visit to Pakistan by US President George W Bush from March 3-4.

Many Pashtun tribesmen, who live on both sides of the border, sympathise with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri are believed to be hiding somewhere in the frontier region.


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