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Us offers aid to pakistanis displaced by clashes

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Picture: REUTERS/Mian Khursheed
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf leaves the presidential house after his resignation in Islamabad.

The U.S. today offered to help Pakistanis displaced by an army operation against Islamic fighters in a northwest tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials say more than 200,000 have fled the Bajur tribal region, the primary focus of the nearly two-week-old offensive, and the neighboring Mohmand tribal area. Many have landed in relief camps set up by the government and political parties.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor says "they stand ready to offer humanitarian assistance to the government of Pakistan, if requested, in regards to the situation in the tribal regions". He would not offer specifics about the assistance that would be provided.

Nearly 500 people have been killed in the fighting so far, according to Pakistani officials. The numbers and scope of the situation have been difficult to confirm because of the area’s remote and dangerous nature.

The U.S. offer indicated American officials were watching the situation with growing concern. But it also came as the U.S. seeks to strengthen its ties to the new ruling coalition, which this week managed to force longtime American ally Pervez Musharraf to quit as president.

The U.S. also has pushed Pakistan to root out insurgents from the tribal areas, and has frowned on its attempts to seek peace deals with fighters instead of resorting to force.

Bajur is considered a potential hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri. Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik says last week that Pakistani intelligence has reports that about 3,000 armed fighters are present in Bajur.

The fighters include Pakistanis, Afghan Taliban and Central Asians.