Three towns in Pakistan’s northwest cleared of Taliban: Minister

June 5th, 2009 - 5:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, June 5 (IANS) Three towns in Pakistan’s restive northwest have been cleared of the Taliban, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Friday as the military operations against the militants entered their 42nd day.
Speaking to reporters outside parliament, Malik said the towns of Mingora, Kalam and Buner in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) had been cleared of the Taliban and the civilians who had fled the fighting could now return home.

At the same time, he admitted it would take time for normalcy to return to the area.

Malik said some suicide bombers had been arrested during the operations in Swat, on which the security forces are now focussed, but indicated it could be a few weeks before the area was cleared of the militants.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said Thursday that the situation in Swat has “decisively turned” in the security forces’ favour.

“The tide in Swat has decisively turned. Major population centres and roads leading to the valley have been largely cleared of organised resistance by the terrorists,” Kayani said while presiding over the 119th Corps Commanders’ Conference in the adjacent garrison town of Rawalpindi.

“High value targets are being aggressively hunted. To clear the remaining hideouts and sanctuaries, the army will continue to carry out operations at a limited scale,” the army chief said.

The security forces were ordered into action April 26 after the Taliban reneged on a controversial peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The operations had begun in Lower Dir, the home district of Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered the peace deal, and later spread to Buner and Swat. The cleric, who is the father-in-law of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, was arrested by the security forces Thursday.

Under the peace deal, the Taliban were to lay down arms in return for the imposition of Sharia laws in Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and four other districts of the NWFP that are collectively known as the Malakand division.

The military says a little over 1,300 militants have so far been killed but there is no independent confirmation of this as the media has been barred from the battle zone. The security forces have lost some 90 personnel.

The military operations have triggered the biggest and fastest civilian exodus in recent times.

The social welfare department of NWFP has registered some 1.4 million refugees at its camps but the UN estimates the number could be as high as 3 million as many could be staying with relatives and friends.

The UN estimates that close to $543 million would be required for the relief and rehabilitation of the refugees.

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