Pakistan: France to give 12 mln euros for refugees

Paris, 15 May (AKI) - French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday announced a 12 million euro aid package to help Pakistani civilians displaced by Islamabad's battle with Taliban militants in the country's volatile northwest. Sarkozy announced the aid after meeting his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari in Paris.

Zardari reiterated the government would continue its current offensive to wipe out extremists in the Swat valley and nearby areas. It was his first visit to the French capital since assuming office.

The two leaders reviewed bilateral ties, regional security in Afghanistan and the current military operation in Swat and other parts of the North West Frontier Province.

Military operations including artillery shelling of suspected militant hideouts in Swat and the neighbouring district of Lower Dir killed about 124 militants and left nine soldiers dead in the 24 hours before the curfew was relaxed, the army said.

But a Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, claimed that militants have killed at least 37 soldiers in fighting since Wednesday.

Zardari briefed the French president about Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts and measures for the rehabilitation and welfare of the hundreds of thousands displaced by the conflict.

Thousands of civilians were reported to be still fleeing the region on Friday. Buses and trucks were overflowing as people left Mingora, the main city in the Swat valley, where a curfew was temporarily lifted to allow residents to leave.

The United Nations says 830,000 people have left their homes in the past month and the total number of people internally displaced in Pakistan over the past 12 months has risen to around 1.3 million.

The two leaders agreed to continue cooperation,while President Zardari sought the assistance of his French counterpart in increasing Pakistan's access to markets in the European Union.

During Zardari's visit to the United Kingdom, he held talks with prime minister Gordon Brown, foreign secretary David Miliband, and other officials.


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