About 130 relatives of suspected Taliban fighters have been expelled from Pakistan's Swat valley and are living in a camp guarded by the military, officials and witnesses said Tuesday.
The army, which fought to evict the Taliban from the northwestern district last year and which is responsible for security in the area, said the families were expelled by a local council because their relatives failed to surrender.
"There are about 25 families and 130 individuals," Colonel Akhtar Abbas, an army spokesman in Swat, told AFP by telephone.
"A jirga expelled these people because there is a fear that they are still providing support to the militants and targeted killings started in the area," the spokesman said.
The families were ordered out after a May 20 deadline on Taliban fighters to surrender expired and the military drove them to the camp "on a humanitarian basis", said Abbas.
Several recent targeted killings have hit local peace committee members and community elders in the Kabal area of northern Swat, which was considered a Taliban stronghold before the army offensive.
The men, women and children are living in tents at a former Afghan refugee camp at Palai, a barren and mountainous area of the Malakand region, about 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of Peshawar, witnesses said.
Military and civil administration officials told AFP they were providing food, water, a doctor and other supplies to the families.
One local journalist who visited the area said it was impossible to enter or leave the camp without permission from the military and that the premises were heavily guarded by dozens of police and soldiers.
The military told AFP on Tuesday that it would not be possible to visit the camp for at least several days.
Local district coordination officer Javed Marwat said the families were being kept in "protective custody" for their own security because of possible impending military operations in Kabal.
"There was fear and information that these families were providing information or supporting the militants. That is why they have been shifted here and put in a camp," Marwat told AFP.
Asked whether such custody of displaced persons was legal, Marwat replied: "The situation is very tense and people were angry. There was fear that these people were providing information and support to the militants".
When contacted by AFP, the information minister of northwest Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Mian Iftikhar Hussain refused to comment.