MINGORA, Nov 18: Artillery and helicopter gunships pounded positions of militants in Swat and Shangla districts on Sunday amid reports of civilian casualties in Shakardara and Thotano Banda areas.

With no major ground offensive taken during the day, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) claimed a number of militants had been killed in different places.

It said that 120 militants had been killed in fierce clashes over the past four to five days. The militants denied the claim and said that only nine of their men had been killed.

Meanwhile, the militants are reported to have kidnapped five people, including arms dealer Fazal Hakim, Matta traders’ leader Shah Rawan and car dealer Abdul Qayyum. It is believed that they were critical of the militants and had nationalist inclinations.

Local people told Dawn from Shakardara in Matta tehsil that several houses had been hit by artillery shells which intensified on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

They said the home of one Shahzada Khan had been destroyed and his two daughters had been killed and three other children injured.

Intense shelling also damaged several houses in Thothano Banda village in Kabal area. A woman, her daughter and a male member of her family were killed and six other people, most of them women, were injured. Most of the injured were taken to the Saidu Sharif hospital where legs of two women had to be amputated.

The hospital has been short of medicines and an official said it would not be in a position to cope with the situation in case of a major military operation in the area.

The media centre set up by the security forces claimed that militant’s positions in north of Kuza Banda had been attacked, resulting in a number of casualties.

“Militants’ strongholds in Jatkot near Kuza Banda and Bariam Bridge near Matta were pounded by helicopter gunships. A number of miscreants were killed,” said a government spokesman.

In the adjoining Shangla district, militants continued to control the district headquarters of Alpuri. Although they left Puran, the hometown of former federal minister Amir Muqam, they held positions on heights outside the town.

Some people from Alpuri said the militants were entrenched on hilltops overlooking a key road linking the town with Bisham from where troops have been advancing.

The ISPR claimed that security forces had consolidated their positions at Rheem Sar Banda, about 6km from Shangla, which they had secured after an operation.

JIRGA: A jirga of elders and political leaders requested both the sides to cease fire.

It urged the government to start talks with the militants. The participants said the government should implement the Shariat Act and Nizam-i-Adal regulations.

The jirga convened by Syed Akber Shah Lala, cousin of provincial caretaker minister Mohammad Ali Shah Lala, was attended by former MNAs and leaders of political parties.