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Central & South Asia
Displaced Pakistanis head home
Military keeps up assault against Taliban as refugees head back home in the north.
Last Modified: 13 Jul 2009 13:22 GMT

Many of the refugees have been living in crowded camps south of the conflict zone [EPA]

Pakistan's army is keeping up its offensive against suspected Taliban positions in South Waziristan as a massive operation gets under way to return the first of around two million people displaced from the Swat valley and surrounding areas.

Pakistani jets pounded several locations along the border with Afghanistan on Sunday, as part of an ongoing military assault targeting Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban.

The continued offensive comes in the wake of the military declaring that it had expelled Taliban fighters from the northern regions of Buner, Swat and Lower Dir, paving the way for the return of some of the two million people displaced by the fighting.

The refugees have spent the past months living with friends and relatives or in makeshift camps since the military began its offensive in the North West Frontier Province in late April.

They are eager to restart their lives, but it is unclear if they will have intact homes to return to and their safety is also far from certain, the UN humanitarian affairs chief has warned.

In video

 Pakistan's offensive shifts public opinion
 Pakistan's displaced queue for aid
 UN humanitarian chief visits Pakistan's Buner

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"The security situation is not going to be 100 per cent calm in these areas overnight and we must recognise that," John Holmes said on Friday at the end of a visit to Pakistan.

Holmes told Al Jazeera that he had visited Buner and the situation seemed "at least satisfactory" for the displaced to return.

"We have not been able to visit other areas so we can't say if conditions are right," he said.
 
"The most important thing is that the process must be voluntary and the conditions do have to be right on the ground, in terms of security and the restoration of basic services like power and water, telephone, police force and so on," he told Al Jazeera.

The refugee crisis in unlikely to end soon as military operations continue [GALLO/GETTY]
"If they are right, of course we support return because no one wants people to stay where they are any longer than they need to."

Nearly 400,000 people are believed to have returned to Buner already.

But many residents of the Swat valley remain concerned about the situation there as sporadic clashes continue to break out despite the military controlling the towns and all major communication routes.

And their return is unlikely to end Pakistan's refugee crisis, as the military is preparing for a major offensive in neighbouring regions.

The earlier military operation began after fighters poured out of bases in the Swat valley into the neighbouring district of Buner and moved within 96km of the capital Islamabad.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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