UN reviews security after Pakistani Taliban 'threat'

Pakistanis queue for food in a flood relief camp near Muzaffargarh in Punjab, Pakistan, on 25 August, 2010 Millions of Pakistanis have been displaced by the floods

The UN is reviewing security measures for its aid workers in Pakistan, after a warning of new threats from the Pakistani Taliban.

A US official said militants planned to attack foreigners delivering aid to the millions of people affected by the devastating floods in the country.

One Taliban spokesman told Associated Press that the presence of foreign aid workers was "unacceptable".

However, there have been no attacks since the humanitarian crisis unfolded.

The UN says more than 17 million people have been affected by the floods, and about 1.2 million homes have been destroyed, leaving five million people homeless.

As floods sweep down from the north, water has been breaching embankments and threatening residents.

One breach occurred in the Kot Almo area in Sindh province, forcing thousands of people in the southern Thatta district to flee from their homes.

Further downstream, about 400,000 people have been told to evacuate the towns of Sujawal, Mir Pur Batoro and Daro.

"Evacuation in those areas is ongoing but we have issued another warning for the remaining people to leave as well," Saleh Farooqi, director general of the National Disaster Management Agency's Sindh office, told the Reuters news agency.

And the BBC's Chris Morris reports from Shahdadkot, further north in Sindh, that as a breach there widened, a series of fields rapidly filled up, taking on the appearance of an inland sea.

'Plans to attack'

The BBC's Chris Morris shows where flood defences have been breached in Shahdadkot

On Wednesday, a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the BBC that the militant group Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan planned to "conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan".

The official said the US government also believed "federal and provincial ministers" may be at risk, but gave no further details of the source of the information.

A World Health Organization spokesman said that aid work in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan was already being affected by security concerns.

"Now with this threat it means either we have to downsize the operation - which means less access to the affectees - otherwise we have to take more mitigation measures in order to reduce the security risk, which means more resources," Ahmed Farah Shadoul said.

"This will definitely delay the operation in certain areas."

Earlier, US Gen Michael Nagata said his forces had seen no threats to their security in the three weeks that they had been operating in Pakistan, during which their fleet of 19 helicopters had helped save more than 6,000 people.

Analysis

The sense from Washington is that this threat is both serious and credible.

Tehrik-e Taliban is the most radical and violent militant group in Pakistan, based in the tribal region close to the border with Afghanistan.

It's been associated with a series of attacks in recent years on the Pakistani state and on foreigners, and is closely allied to al-Qaeda.

In the past six months, the level of militant violence has reduced, but since the flood crisis began, the Pakistani Taliban has warned against accepting international aid.

Its leaders seem to view foreign assistance and the presence of international aid workers as unwelcome Western interference in their country.

All this is a further blow to aid workers who are already battling with plenty of logistical challenges.

But on Thursday afternoon, Tehrik-e Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said it believed the US and other countries were not focused solely on providing aid to flood victims, and had other unspecified "intentions".

"No relief is reaching the affected people, and when the victims are not receiving help this horde of foreigners is not acceptable to us at all," he told AP.

"When we say something is unacceptable to us one can draw his own conclusion," he added, in an apparent threat.

A retired Pakistani general, Talat Masood, earlier said that the militant group would seek to counter any gains in public support for Western governments helping with relief and aid work.

The US is one of a number of countries to have sent aid and assistance to Pakistan. The US Agency for International Development (USAid) says that it has so far provided about $150m (£97m) in support to victims of the flood.

'Nothing left'

Various nations have pledged more than $700m (£552m) for relief efforts in Pakistan.

Workers have begun clearing up as the floods recede in the north and the UN has appealed for more helicopters to reach 800,000 people who are cut off.

The UN's Maurizio Giuliano explains how the UN aid agencies are familiar with such threats

Aid agencies are focusing on providing emergency relief such as shelter, food and medical care.

In the southern province of Sindh, people displaced by the flooding have gathered at one of the main railway stations in Karachi.

"We have fled from the floods," one woman said.

"We have nothing left. We have been here for three or four days, and we are hungry. Nobody is even looking at us. We have had no food the whole day. We are dying of hunger. I have six children."

Another of those waiting at the station, Abdul Ghani Odano, said people were relying on charity to survive.

"This has been going on for eight days," he said. "Some have started begging for food. They lie around here day and night. Sometimes some generous people come and help but no government official has come so far."

Map of Pakistan's flooded areas, 25 August 2010

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