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Pakistanis stream out of Swat conflict zone

Pakistani civilians again streamed out of homes in the northwest Swat valley on Friday, following evacuation orders from the military and taking advantage of a curfew break, officials said.

world Updated: Jun 05, 2009 12:12 IST

Pakistani civilians again streamed out of homes in the northwest Swat valley on Friday, following evacuation orders from the military and taking advantage of a curfew break, officials said.

Military helicopters dropped leaflets overnight saying the government would ease curfew restrictions in Kabal and Matta in the centre of the valley to allow residents to vacate their homes, a senior military official said.

The curfew was relaxed from 6:00 am until 3:00 pm, with special buses laid on to transport people without vehicles to government-run camps for the some two million people displaced by six weeks of fighting, he added.

The military advised residents to leave Imam Dheri, Damaghar, Kozabandi, Chota Kalam, Ningolai and Shakardara.

These villages are within five kilometres (three miles) of Swat's main town Mingora, which the military said was won back from the Taliban last on Saturday.

"The decision has been taken after reports that militants fleeing Mingora are now hiding in these places," the official said.

Local officials said people were leaving in 'large numbers'.

The military official said thousands of people could vacate the area, with about 100 buses laid on at the outskirts of Mingora, ahead of a possible operation in those surrounding villages.

Imam Dheri used to be the main base of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah during his violent two-year uprising to enforce sharia law in Swat.

The Pakistani military launched an offensive in northwestern districts six weeks ago after Taliban fighters advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad, in violation of a deal the government had agreed in February to put the region's three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace.

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani said the tide in Swat had "decisively turned" and top militant leaders were being "aggressively hunted," a statement from his office said.

The United States, which has strongly backed the operation, sent special envoy Richard Holbrooke to Pakistan where he met some of those made homeless by the conflict on Thursday.