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North Waziristan Civilians Contest Military's Bombing Claims


BANNU, Pakistan -- Civilians in a remote northwestern region of Pakistan have rejected government claims that airstrikes targeting their community are killing militants.

Residents of the Zoi Saidgi village, part of the Shawal valley in the embattled North Waziristan tribal district, told Radio Mashaal that the July 16 airstrikes in the area have, on the contrary, killed dozens of civilians.

The Pakistani army claims they have killed 35 "terrorists" in aerial bombardment operations in Shawal. Separately, a U.S. drone strike killed at least 13 people in the same region on July 16.

But Zoi Saidgi, from the village of Malak Mirzal, told Radio Mashaal on July 17 that locals have so far counted at least 38 civilian deaths from the airstrikes.

"The dead include men, women, and children,” he said. "There were 25 children among the dead. It destroyed many houses and vehicles. They were all residents of this village and I can name them all because I knew them personally. None of them was a local or foreign militant or a terrorist."

Afghan Saidgai, another resident of Zoi Saidgai, said the bombing killed 18 members of his family.

"I was the only one who survived the bombing because I was able to run out of our house," he said. "I want to tell the Pakistani government that we are also citizens of this country. They should not persecute us in the name of killing terrorists and militants."

The Pakistani army claims to have killed more than 450 militants in North Waziristan since launching its "comprehensive" military operation in June in the mountainous region, which is seen as a stronghold of Al-Qaeda, Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, and their Central Asian allies.

In one of the first eyewitness accounts of the offensive, RFE/RL's Gandhara website reported that few militants were killed as a result of the strikes.

North Waziristan remains closed to independent observers and journalists, but in early July the Pakistani military took a group of journalists on a guided tour of Miran Shah, a deserted town in North Waziristan. They did not meet any local residents, as they had fled when Pakistani troops took control of the city.

The offensive has caused a massive humanitarian crisis, with local authorities estimating this week that nearly one million North Waziristan residents had been displaced into Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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