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Central & South Asia
Swat valley refugees allowed home
About two million people displaced by fighting in northwestern area can soon return.
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2009 08:23 GMT
Thousands of people have been sheltering in refugee camps since fleeing their homes [Reuters] 
 

About two million people who fled their homes during an army offensive against Taliban fighters in Pakistan's Swat valley will be allowed to return, the country's prime minister has said.

The region is secure and refugees can go back to the northwestern region from Monday, Yusuf Reza Gilani said on Thursday.

"The electricity has been restored, the gas has been restored, the gas stations have been restored and even the banks have been restored," he said in a televised news conference.

Pakistani army troops will continue to patrol the valley to make sure that Taliban fighters do not return, he said.

The statement comes a day after the army said it had wounded Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat valley.

The mass exodus of people from the Swat valley during the military campaign was estimated to be the biggest movement of civilians from a conflict zone snce the second world war.

Government grants

PJ Mir, a political commentator and expert on Pakistan's tribal issues, told Al Jazeera: "This report of Maulana Fazlullah being injured in his domain will work in favour of the Pakistani army, both news-wise and as a boost to the Pakistani army.

 

"We are fighting here a war against those insurgents who have taken on the towns in Pakistan, so this is news – but it is still unconfirmed. But the very news is big, as far as Pakistanis and the army are concerned."

The government has said it will give money to assist those who go back to their homes in the valley.

In depth

UN humanitarian chief visits Pakistan's Buner

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Major-General Nadeem Ahmad, who is leading efforts to manage the refugees, said those living in camps - estimated at 100,000 people - will be the first to return.

Stephanie Bunker, a spokeswoman for the United Nations' office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs, said the refugees should return "only when it was safe for them to do so and if it is voluntary".

Mir also believes that the declared safety in Swat valley might prove premature.

"As the track record shows, every time Pakistani negotiators talk with [opposition fighters], the next thing we see is a bomb blast in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, or Peshawar. So yes, there is a very imminent danger that this is not something that will just subside [after the military’s success in Swat]," he said.

Swat fighting

The Pakistani military's offensive against the Taliban in Swat began in April, after the Taliban advanced into areas close to Islamabad, the country's capital.

At least 1,500 suspected Taliban fighters were killed during the fighting, the military has said.

But while the Swat valley is now said to be under the control of the Pakistani authorities, fighting is continuing in South Waziristan, another region in the northwest.

A Pakistani military air raid on Thursday killed at least 12 suspected fighters in the Ladha and Kani Guram areas of South Waziristan, intelligence officials said.

That came a day after at least 45 suspected Taliban members were killed in an air raid by suspected US drones in the province, intelligence officials said.

Source:
Agencies
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