Swat valley clashes kill 45 militants, 19 civilians

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Islamabad, Aug 1 (UNI) People started migrating to safer places today after 19 civilians and 45 rebels were killed in clashes between security forces and Taliban militants during the last three days in the restive northwestern Swat valley.

Clashes erupted on Tuesday after militants killed three intelligence officials and kidnapped 30 security officials from a police checkpost in Kabal, 40 kilometers northwest of Mingora, the capital of Swat, which was known as Switzerland of Pakistan until militants loyal to pro-Taliban commander Maulana Fazalullah launched attacks last year.

Several mortar shells hit houses in the Kabal and adjoining areas of the Swat valley today and yesterday. In all, 34 militants and 19 civilians, including seven of a family, died in fighting.

Four civilians were killed in Deolai, Sambat and Shangwatai areas yesterday, while scores of others sustained injuries in the shooting. Several houses were reportedly destroyed in mortar shelling.

Four persons out of 17, who sustained injuries in gunship helicopters' shelling the other day, also succumbed to their injuries yesterday. The civilian casualties and destruction of houses forced the locals to shift to safer places.

Militants attacked Kabal police station, army base camp and Wanai checkpost with rockets and heavy weapons, triggering retaliatory fire from the security forces. The security forces targeted suspected positions of the Taliban from Kanju camp and Frontier House, Kabal, in the wee hours of yesterday. Gunship helicopters pounded the hideouts of the militants in the Taliban-infested Matta and Kabal areas.

A mortar shell hit the house of a Pesh-e-Imam (prayer leader), Maulvi Fasihul Lisan, in the Deolai area of the Kabal, killing him and six members of his family. The dead were identified as Dr Muhammad Tahir, Zainul Abideen, Khalida, Abbas and two other children.

The wife of Fasih sustained serious injuries. In a similar incident, six people were killed by a mortar shell which landed on their house in Sakai area of Kabal. So far, more than 30 people have been injured. Locals said 14 of the injured were brought to the hospital.

In another incident at Qandeel, Madyan, a policeman suffered injuries when the Taliban fired rockets at the checkpost. The forces returned the fire and arrested an unknown militant, who was shifted to an undisclosed location.

Three corpses, believed to be of militants, were found near Matta police station. Some reports suggested the killing of 10 militants in fierce clashes between the Taliban militants and security forces in Bara Bamakhel, Sarbanda, Peuchar, Namal and Ghatshur areas of the Matta tehsil in Swat.

Another report suggested the killing of 18 militants in Bamakhel, but locals said they saw only two bodies in the fields. The militants, who are on the run, could not be contacted to ascertain the number of Taliban casualties. However, an army spokesman said that the number of militants killed so far was 45 in the last three-day of clashes.

''I cannot say how many militants were killed yesterday, but I can confirm that the security forces have killed 45 militants in the last two days. The forces suffered only five casualties,'' he said.

The spokesman said the forces were taking action in self-defence.

''We only retaliate to the militants' attacks on our checkposts,'' he said and added the operation had not been recommenced.

UNI XC PD UCS1507

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