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Pakistani Taliban blow up schools in Swat
Mon Jan 19, 2009 6:34am EST
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By Junaid Khan
MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani Taliban insurgents blew up four schools in the northwestern Swat region Monday hours after a cabinet minister vowed that the government would reopen schools in the violence-plagued valley.
The scenic Swat Valley was until recently one of Pakistan's prime tourist destinations but Islamist militants aiming to impose a harsh form of Islamic law began battling security forces in 2007.
Residents say the militants are now virtually in complete control of the valley, which is 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad and not on the Afghan border, including its main town of Mingora, where the schools were destroyed early Monday.
"Militants blew up two girls schools and two boys schools," a top government official in the valley, Shaukat Yousafzai, told Reuters. "Attacks on troops are understandable but why are they destroying schools?"
Schools are closed for a winter break and no one was hurt in the attacks.
As with Afghanistan's Taliban, their Pakistani counterparts oppose education for girls and they recently banned female education in Swat altogether.
The militants also see schools as symbols of government authority and they say the army posts soldiers in them.
Yousafzai said the militants had destroyed 170 schools in the valley where about 55,000 girls and boys were enrolled in government-run institutions.
Pakistan is struggling to stem growing Islamist influence and violence in the northwest as it keeps a wary eye on its eastern border with India after militant attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai led to a spike in tension between the neighbors.
Information Minister Sherry Rehman told reporters on Sunday
the government aimed to ensure that schools in Swat would reopen on March 1, when they are due to go back after the winter break.
But that would seem like wishful thinking.
The militants have shot, blown up or beheaded their opponents while broadcasting edicts and threats over their FM radio.
Many families have fled to the nearby cities of Peshawar and Mardan, while many police officers have either deserted or simply refused to serve, residents say. Continued...
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