Pakistan Says Swat Nearly Ready for Locals' Return
By VOA News
09 July 2009
Pakistani officials are telling about two million people who fled the war-torn Swat Valley the region is almost ready for their return, despite continuing violence.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Thursday most of the area has been secured and that essential services have been restored.
However, local reports from the greater Swat Valley region said Taliban militants are still active in the area and continue to intimidate locals. On Thursday, the military reported that troops are still discovering militant training camps and roadside bombs.
An army statement said six soldiers were wounded in a bomb blast in Bannu district. Troops also arrested 12 suspected militants in the region.
Mr. Gilani said people can begin going home July 13, although the army will remain in the area for security.
He said 1,700 militants were killed during the offensive. Reporters have had little access to the battle zone and thus have been unable to confirm government casualty tallies.
Tens of thousands of people have been living in camps since Pakistan's army began an offensive in late April aimed at wiping out the Taliban insurgents in the greater Swat valley region. Most of those displaced are staying with friends or relatives. Aid agencies warn many communities are being overwhelmed.
This is not the first time people have been told it was safe to go home. More than three weeks ago, Pakistani officials asked people from the Buner district to return.
The United Nations has been providing aid to many of the people and is eager to see them return home. But U.N. officials say conditions must be safe and that any return must be voluntary.
Even as Pakistani military operations conclude in the Swat Valley, the campaign against the Taliban has intensified in tribal areas near the Afghan border.
On Thursday, local officials in South Waziristan said fighter jets bombed targets in the Taliban-dominated region, killing 12 suspected militants.
South Waziristan is a longtime stronghold of fugitive Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|