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'Militant stronghold cleared in Swat offensive'

world Updated: May 29, 2009 17:25 IST

AFP
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Pakistan's military said Friday soldiers had cleared another militant stronghold and killed 28 militants over the last 24 hours of its offensive against the Taliban in the northwest district of Swat.

"Security forces continued with cordon and search operation and successfully cleared the stronghold of miscreants at Peochar village," the military said in a statement providing no further details.

Commandos were this month flown into Peochar valley, a stronghold of Maulana Fazlullah who has led a Taliban uprising to enforce sharia law in Swat, but it was not immediately clear how much of the area remained under militant control.

Neither is it possible to confirm independently information released by the army because the conflict area has been declared a closed military zone.

The military says more than 1,200 militants have been killed in the conflict but there has been little official word on civilian casualties during the month-long offensive in the northwest.

"In last 24 hours, 28 miscreants-terrorists were killed and seven were apprehended in various areas of Swat during exchange of fire with security forces, while five soldiers and two civilians were injured," the military said.

Medical officials, journalists and aid workers have been unable to confirm death tolls issued by the military, but many of those displaced by the conflict have told of innocent relatives being killed in the offensive.

Some of the heaviest recent fighting seemed to take place in the northern Swat town of Bahrain, where security forces said Thursday they had entered and where nine militants were killed, and two soldiers and two civilians wounded.

The military said security forces recovered 12 "UN registered vehicles" and destroyed militant hideouts, including an Islamic seminary.

Around 2.4 million people have fled fighting as soldiers struggle to wrest back the western Swat and two nearby districts from the Taliban, who last month advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the capital, Islamabad.

The military says more than 1,200 militants and 80 soldiers have died in the onslaught, launched in the districts of Lower Dir on April 26, Buner on April 28 and Swat on May 8, but those tolls cannot be confirmed independently.