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PESHAWAR, Aug 17: The internally displaced persons from central Kurram Agency have been directed to start packing for the return journey to their homes as security forces have cleared their militancy-hit villages of militants.

Fata Disaster Management Authority Director General Arshad Khan told Dawn here on Wednesday that IDPs repatriation programme to central Kurram would start from August 25 as security forces have declared seven villages free of militants.

In the first phase, some 700 families would be sent back to the seven villages, he said. FDMA would arrange free transport for the returning IDPs.

“We hope that the entire area will be de-notified as a conflict zone by the end of August and all IDPs will be sent back to their homes very soon,” he said.

However, the fate of over 21,000 displaced families, who had migrated to safer places from their hometowns owing to sectarian clashes in upper and lower Kurram is still uncertain. The government is yet to take any concrete measures regarding their repatriation. They were still living miserable life in rented houses or staying with their relatives.

Security forces had launched operation in central Kurram in the last week of June to flush out militants from mountainous and rugged terrain of the valley. Before launching the offensive, the government had notified 80 square kilometres area as conflict zone where army and paramilitary forces started joint operation.

The operation was launched in the light of reports that a large number of militants, who were uprooted from other conflict-hit areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata including South Waziristan Agency, had set up sanctuaries in central Kurram.

Officials believed that presence of militants in the area was one of the root causes of sectarian violence in the valley.

Security officials claimed that over 200 militants had been killed in the ongoing operation.

Authorities have also organised tribesmen to raise armed lashkar against militants and protect their soil from intruders.

Sources said that after clearing central Kurram, security forces would focus on upper tehsil of violence-ravaged Orakzai Agency, adjacent to Kurram Agency, which was considered safe haven for militants. An operation was launched in Orakzai Agency in March 2009, but the area had not been cleared of militants after lapse of over two years, they said.

Thousands of families fled their homes as a result of army action. Authorities said that 11,223 families had been displaced of which 2,587 were registered in New Durrani Camp.

The camp was set up in lower Kurram to accommodate thousands of displaced people. Majority of the displaced families are living with host families and some have taken shelter in government buildings.

Officials said that United Nations’ agencies would assist return process of the IDPs for central Kurram Agency and each displaced family would get free transportation, food and non-food items. They said that families residing off camp would also get non-food items.