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Pakistani forces retake Mingora airport

Pakistani forces have captured the airport in Mingora, Swat's largest city, as the military's anti-Taliban operations in the country's restive northwest entered their second month on Tuesday.

world Updated: May 26, 2009 16:32 IST

Pakistani forces have captured the airport in Mingora, Swat's largest city, as the military's anti-Taliban operations in the country's restive northwest entered their second month on Tuesday.

The security forces are also approaching the mountain village of Pir Baba in Buner district, while in Lower Dir, heavy artillery pounded militants' strongholds in parts of Maidan sub-district.

"Many hideouts of militants were destroyed during the shelling. Security forces have also blown up the houses of several militant commanders," Geo TV reported on Tuesday.

Militants attacked the Kalpani check post on the border of Upper and Lower Dir, injuring four security personnel, the channel added.

When the security forces' operations began on April 26, the military estimated there were some 5,000 Taliban fighters in the Swat, Buner and Lower Dir districts. It now says that about half of these have fled the region, while some 1,100 have been killed but there is no independent confirmation of this since the media has been barred from the area.

The military says casualties on its side have been relatively light with some 70 officers and soldiers losing their lives.

The military went into action after the Taliban violated a controversial peace accord with the NWFP and 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 then spread to Buner and Swat.

The military operations have triggered the largest and swiftest refugee exodus anywhere in the world in recent times, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says.

The social welfare department of the NWFP government says it has registered 1.45 million refugees at its 22 relief camps but the actual number could be as high as 2.5 million as many of the displaced persons could be staying with friends and relatives.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who met some of displaced people during a three-day visit to Pakistan earlier this month, has called for urgent and massive international help from governments and other donors for those left homeless by fighting.

The UN office in Islamabad said last week $543 million would be required for the rehabilitation of the displaced people. A day earlier, Pakistan had won pledges of $244 million at a donors conference in Islamabad.