MINGORA, Nov 19: Security forces on Monday directed that two villages in the Kabal sub-division of the troubled Swat District be vacated, while two other villages in the area came under intense shelling in the evening.
The forces claimed to have made some gains while advancing towards Alpuri, the headquarters of the adjoining Shangla district, which was occupied by militants a week ago.The people of Dagai and Akhund villages, about 25km from here, were seen fleeing the area in large numbers following the announcements made by security forces on loudspeakers.
Witnesses said the two villages had a combined population of about 50,000. Many women and children were seen treading the mountain road on foot because of non-availability of transport.
Owners of public transport, particularly of vans, have increased their fares and due to the rush of people, it is difficult to find seats in the vehicles.
“An announcement was made on loudspeakers by soldiers that the two villages should be vacated by 5pm,” an inhabitant of Dagai said.
He said the villages were considered the strongholds of militants led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah.
The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) claimed that they had requested the villagers to vacate the area to avoid civilian causality.
Spokesperson for the militants Sirajuddin told Dawn that they were still open to negotiations. He claimed that a war had been imposed on them by the government and they only wanted enforcement of Shariah.
“We were looking after the law and order in the area since police have fled and the life and property of the people are at risk due to presence of anti-social elements,” Sirajuddin said while talking to Dawn from an undisclosed place.
Meanwhile, reports of intense artillery shelling were received from Hazara and Guljaba villages.
There were no reports of casualties as the local population claimed they were not in a position to confirm the number of people killed or injured.
According to reports reaching here from Shangla, sporadic clashes took place as troops advanced towards Alpuri.
Official sources said security forces had been inching towards Alpuri through the mountains and were avoiding the road connecting the district headquarters with Bisham, another key town of Shangla.
The ISPR in a press release said security forces had resumed their operation against militants in Rheem Sar Banda, about 6kms from Alpuri.
Residents said people in upper parts of the Swat district were facing an acute shortage of food because of the closure of roads.
Our correspondent adds from Buner: A jirga comprising police and tribal elders met in Swari on Monday and vowed to keep militants and security forces out of the district.
They said they would themselves maintain peace in the area, adding that militants from the adjacent districts would not be provided shelter or support.
The jirga was attended by a large number of elders, including JUI-F district Amir Maulana Mohammad Haleem, JUI-S Amir Maulana Shereen, ANP secretary-general Syed Laiq Bacha, PPP-P president Usman Shah Khan, PPP (Sherpao) leader Sher Akhbar Khan, PML (Q) president Sir Zamin Khan, PML (N) president Sardar Jehan and Pakistan Awami Party chief Fanos Gujor.
Meanwhile, the people of Chaghorzaiwal area near Shangla, expressed concern over the presence of forces in the Maradoo High School and claimed that the education of around 600 students in the area was being affected.
They asked the government to vacate the school and residential areas. They also formed a jirga for maintaining peace in the area.