"When we first went in [to Swat] on Monday, there were long queues and numerous checkpoints ... [but today], the city is coming back to life," he said.

However, many Swat residents remain concerned about the security situation as sporadic clashes continue to erupt despite the military's control over the towns and all major communication routes.

Fighters at large

The Swat Taliban leadership is still intact and hundreds or even thousands of their fighters are still at large.

"The people will be picking up the pieces, the shops and businesses that have been destroyed have to start from scratch," our correspondent said.

"It will be an uphill task and the people of Swat will need assistance for a while."

In video

 Displaced return despite Swat security concerns
 Pakistan's displaced begin journey home
 Pakistan's offensive shifts public opinion
 Pakistan's displaced queue for aid
 UN humanitarian chief visits Pakistan's Buner
 Riz Khan: Pakistan's Swat refugees

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The UN humanitarian affairs chief earlier cautioned that there was no guarantee of safety for the returnees.

"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 Pakistan visit.

But there are other areas in the northwest where people have not been able to return for over a year due to the fighting.

"They [residents of the NWFP] would be concerned that they will not be able to return for another few years," our correspondent said.

"The big onus on the government now is to ensure that it is able to give a level of security [to these people]."

Pakistani authorities had announced that the displaced would start returning to their homes from July 13 after the military said it had largely cleared the districts of Buner, Swat and Lower Dir of Taliban fighters.

Many people have been living with friends and relatives or in makeshift camps since the military began its offensive in the NWFP in late April.

'Fazlullah broadcast'

Amid the influx of Swat's displaced residents, Pakistan's army said it was investigating if Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the regional Taliban, delivered a recent radio address.

The military had earlier said he was wounded.

Fazlullah long used illegal FM radio transmissions to rally support. The army has been fighting his supporters for nearly three months.

The Associated Press news agency quoted a local as saying he heard Fazlullah for a few minutes on Tuesday.

Mohammad Yaseen Khan said Fazlullah asked his supporters not to lose spirit in the face of the army onslaught.