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RAWALPINDI, Jan 16: The army claimed on Wednesday success of the military operation it had launched in the Swat valley to eradicate armed militants.

However, the militants’ chieftain Maulana Fazlullah and some of his fighters were still holed up in a remote mountainous area and troops were hunting for them, Director-General Military Operations Maj-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha said at a press briefing here.

He said the district administration was gaining confidence as the writ of the government had been established. He expressed the hope that peace and normal life would soon return to the valley once regarded as the best tourist resort in the country.

Code-named as ‘Operation Rah-e-Haq’, the operation involved hundred of troops and mechanised units that had moved into the area several weeks ago.

Using heavy artillery, and supported by helicopter gunship, the troops went for the kill after weeks of uncertainty during which militants loyal to Maulana Fazlullah had seized several villages and towns and had forced police and local authorities to leave their offices.

During the period, a series of suicide attacks and bombings killed a large number of security personnel, creating an impression as if militants from tribal areas were spreading their tentacles in the settled region.

Gen Pasha said that 10 senior aides of the militant leader had been arrested and Maulana Fazlullah himself narrowly escaped arrest on quite a few occasions.

He said a total of 617 suspects had been arrested but most of them were released after interrogation.

He said that 36 jawans lost their lives in the operations and 72 suffered injures. Nine civilians were killed and 46 injured, he added.Families of those who lost their lives or suffered injuries were being looked after by the army, he said.

Maj-Gen Pasha said the government would announce a compensation package for the affected people and a long-term development plan for the districts of Swat and Shangla.

The Pakistan Army will participate in the development of the area through an investment of Rs1 billion. Full recovery, he said, would take some time.

Lauding the role of the people of Swat, he said the local support was forthcoming and the presence of military was welcomed.

He said the military operation was requisitioned by the provincial government when the political administration became completely ineffective and was demoralised.

Talibanisation was at its peak when Swat and Shangla districts were lost. The militants were ruthlessly curbing any resistance and slaughtering innocent civilians.

He said the army was distributing relief goods and setting up medical camps. Maj-Gen Pasha also said the army had adopted a new policy in the Swat valley to counter the militants’ propaganda.

The policy involves setting up more and more FM channels to neutralise effects of Mullah Fazlullah’s FM channels which aired highly provocative views and promoted militancy.

Gen Pasha said that since the start of the operation the army had set up 12 FM radio stations.

The FM channel ‘Mera Swat’ was becoming popular among the people of the valley, he claimed.

Responding to a question about the deployment of troops during the elections, Gen Pasha said that 35,000 troops would be deployed for the 70,000 polling stations throughout the country.

The Ministry of Interior has requisitioned the deployment of army to maintain peace and law and order during the first ten days of Muharram.

In Punjab, 80 companies have been deployed in 29 districts, 25 companies in 11 districts of Sindh, 34 companies in seven districts of the NWFP, and 16 companies in one district of Balochistan.