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Pakistanis flee after Swat evacuation order

Panicked residents fled suburban areas of a key northwest Pakistan town on Tuesday after the army issued an evacuation order which they immediately withdrew, witnesses said. The military ordered four neighbourhoods on the edge of Mingora, the main town in the Taliban-infested Swat valley, to evacuate and announced a break in an indefinite curfew for the displaced to flee to a special camp.

world Updated: May 05, 2009 17:31 IST

Panicked residents fled suburban areas of a key northwest Pakistan town on Tuesday after the army issued an evacuation order which they immediately withdrew, witnesses said.

The military ordered four neighbourhoods on the edge of Mingora, the main town in the Taliban-infested Swat valley, to evacuate and announced a break in an indefinite curfew for the displaced to flee to a special camp.

Overnight clashes in Mingora and gunfire after daybreak has imperiled an increasingly shaky peace deal in Swat, where the Taliban focused on a terrifying insurgency for nearly two years until a ceasefire was brokered in February.

Local residents said "large numbers" were leaving in panic, weighed down with whatever belongings they could carry, walking on foot, waiting at bus stations or driving away in private cars.

But the army swiftly withdrew the order and urged residents to stay at home, said local military spokesman Major Nasir Khan.

"We had issued orders for people to vacate some areas," he told AFP.

"We have now suspended this order and people are directed not to vacate their homes because the government has no immediate plan to launch an operation in these areas," he said.

"The revised order is being conveyed to people through the public address system," the spokesman added.

Officials said thousands of people live in Kambar, Rahimabad, Makan Bagh and Amankot, where residents were ordered to leave over the public address system.

Kambar, located at the entry point of Mingora, is a major Taliban stronghold and is where militants last week refused to let a military convoy enter the city.