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12-hour curfew clamped on Swat

November 17, 2007

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MINGORA, Nov 16: A curfew has been clamped on Swat and Malakand areas as security forces, backed by helicopter gunships and artillery, pounded different areas and advanced towards Alpuri, the district headquarters of Shangla, where militants are putting up a stiff resistance. The curfew will remain in effect from 2am to 2pm on Saturday.

The Inter Service Public Relations said on Friday that troops had resumed operation after consolidating positions in and around a strategically important gorge about six kilometres from Alpuri.

An ISPR press release quoted reports from forward areas as saying that militants in large numbers had occupied various heights along the road connecting Alpuri with Bisham, another major town which connects Shangla with the Karakorum Highway.

Helicopter gunships and heavy artillery were used to target militants’ positions and the security forces claimed to have destroyed bunkers and two double-cabin vehicles of militants in the Sirsinai area of Kabal.

A militant commander, meanwhile, disputed security forces’ claim that about 100 insurgents had been killed in three days of clashes and said the troops had suffered heavy losses.

“Our morale is high and we are ready to take on the advancing soldiers,” commander Khalid Khan told a group of journalists in Shangla.

There are reports that more militants have moved to Alpuri. According local people, militants were seen going from different areas of Swat to the adjoining Shangla district. Local people said fierce clashes had taken place in Belae Baba where the militants were holding positions on mountains overlooking the Alpuri-Bisham road. They said since artillery shelling continued throughout the day, the number of casualties could not be known.

A jirga held in the Chakesar tehsil of Shangla requested the militants to leave the district.

The jirga, led by Senator Rahat Hussain, who earlier headed the Malakand Peace Jirga, said residents of Shangla were peace-loving religious people and the militants should leave the area.

A militant commander reportedly told the jirga that if they made a commitment that positions vacated by them would not be occupied by troops, they were ready to withdraw to Swat.