70 killed in Pakistan’s Swat Valley clashes

August 1st, 2008 - 3:00 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Taliban
Islamabad, Aug 1 (DPA) Security forces, backed by gunships and artillery, pounded several militant hideouts Friday as the death toll in three days of fighting in Pakistan’s north-western Swat Valley rose to 70, officials and media reports said. The clashes erupted when pro-Taliban militants killed three intelligence officers and seized up to 30 police and paramilitary troops, putting a two-month peace agreement in the valley in limbo.

“Our forces have so far killed 45 miscreants in the action,” said Major General Athar Abbas, an army spokesman.

Five soldiers, including an officer, died Wednesday in the Ucharai Sar area, about 300 km northwest of Islamabad.

Since then, artillery fire and gunship helicopters have continually targeted militants in the Matta and Kabal subdistricts.

Casualties among civilians were also high in the three days of fighting. At least 18, many of them women and children, were killed and some 40 injured as mortar rounds destroyed 40 houses, the Dawn newspaper said.

People in the Bedara area held a rally to protest what they called “indiscriminate shelling” by the military.

More casualties were feared Friday as army attacks were reported early in the day while militants blew up a primary girls’ school and a police checkpoint.

A Taliban spokesman accused government troops of using chemical weapons. “We have sufficient evidence to prove that,” Muslim Khan told the Aaj news channel.

The claim could not be verified independently.

Meanwhile, the authorities announced a five-hour break Friday in the round-the-clock curfew for the Swat Valley, allowing civilians caught in the fighting to move to safer places.

The picturesque valley was a popular tourist destination until November when the military launched a crackdown on the supporters of a radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah after he began a campaign to impose Taliban-style rules in Swat.

Hundreds of people died in the operation, which was halted in March when Pakistan’s new government initiated peace talks with the militants and reached a peace accord in May.

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