Pak forces clear militants from valley towns

Pak forces clear militants from valley towns

Mingora (Pakistan): In a major crack down on militants, Pakistani forces have cleared them off from two towns in a northwestern valley. The militants trying to impose Taliban-style rule there have fled, the Pakistan military said.

The Pakistani army launched an offensive last month against hundreds of militants who had infiltrated into the Swat valley from strongholds on the Afghan border in support of a radical cleric.

The valley, about five hours’ drive on mountain roads from Islamabad, had been a tourist destination until this year when well-armed militants appeared and began to enforce their rule.

They attacked security forces, closed girls’ schools and video shops and tried to destroy ancient Buddhist ruins, raising fresh fears about the spread of militancy as President Pervez Musharraf remained preoccupied with political opposition to his rule.

Security forces had now regained control of the towns of Matta and Khawzakhela, the military said, and were also searching a madarsa that had been the headquarters of the radical cleric, Fazlullah.

“Today we’ve searched the so-called madarsa because it was not being used as a madarsa, it was being used for planning and recruitment for these militant activities," said Major General Waheed Arshad, military spokesman.

Soldiers were also searching the houses of Fazlullah and his spokesman, said the military spokesman. “We found arms and ammunition in all three places. Those houses are being demolished on the demand of the locals," he said

About 250 militants have been killed over the course of the offensive and scores captured. Twenty-five civilians and 15 soldiers have also been killed.

Thousands of villagers have left the valley since the fighting flared. Arshad said the militants and Fazlullah were believed to have fled into remote valleys to the west.

Arshad said security forces would clear militants out of the entire valley. “Until the time people are cleared from the western areas, operations will continue," he said.