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The Mideast

Pakistani militant commander refuses polio vaccine teams over drone attacks

A militant commander in northwest Pakistan warned polio vaccination teams on Saturday to stay away from the territory he controls near the Afghan border, saying he would not allow immunizations until U.S. drone attacks in the country are stopped.   

The statement by Hafiz Gul Bahadur is an obstacle to efforts to beat polio on Pakistan, one of only three nations where the virus is endemic.

The threat came in a pamphlet distributed Saturday in markets in the troubled North Waziristan tribal region. "We don't want benefits from well-wishers who spend billions to save children from polio, which can affect one or two out of hundreds of thousands, while on the other hand the same well-wisher (America) with the help of its slave (Pakistan's government) kills hundreds of innocent tribesmen including old women and children by unleashing numerous drone attacks," it said.

The pamphlet also said spies could enter the region under the cover of vaccination teams to get information for the United States about "holy warriors." It said teams who disregarded his warning would be responsible for any consequences.

The polio virus, which usually infects children living in unsanitary conditions, attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyze.

Bahadur is believed to have a truce with the Pakistani army, while he focuses on attacks against U.S. and NATO troops across the Afghan border. Some of his fighters have recently been killed in the U.S. drone attacks, which Pakistan's government also opposes.

Washington has refused to stop the strikes, which it holds are an essential weapon against militants. It is widely believed in Pakistan that most of the dead are civilians, but villagers living near the sites of a number of major strikes told the The Associated Press in a report published earlier this year that a significant majority of those killed were combatants.

The region's top health official Mohammed Sadiq said that teams had completed an initial round of anti-polio vaccinations, but would not start another round of the campaign that was scheduled to begin from June 20. He said 162,000 children were to be immunized.

Sadiq said they had informed Pakistani authorities and the World Health Organization about the warning.