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PESHAWAR, May 30 Security forces on Saturday warned residents of Charbagh town of the NWFP to leave the area ahead of a possible attack on militants there, officials said.

The warning was made in leaflets dropped by helicopters on Charbagh town, which is in the Swat district.

“Residents were advised by the leaflets to evacuate the area,” a senior military official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said “this has been done to avoid collateral damage ahead of a possible military operation in Charbagh town”, a Taliban stronghold.

Commandos this month attacked the Peochar valley, a stronghold of Maulana Fazlullah, who has led a Taliban uprising to enforce Sharia law in Swat, but it was not immediately clear how much of the area remained under militant control.

Another security official confirmed that leaflets had been dropped in Charbagh ahead of a possible ground and air offensive.

“There are intelligence reports about the presence of a number of important Taliban commanders in the area,” he said.

However, he did not give further details, citing security concerns.

The official said that residents had begun leaving the Charbagh area, which has population of 20,000-25,000.

Some of the heaviest recent fighting seems to have taken place in Bahrain, in the northern Swat valley, where security forces said on Thursday they had killed nine militants, in fighting that left two soldiers and two civilians wounded.

Over 2.8 million people have fled the area, as soldiers struggle to wrest western Swat and two nearby districts back from the Taliban

The military says more than 1,200 militants and 80 soldiers have died in the onslaught, launched in the districts of Lower Dir on April 26, Buner on April 28 and Swat on May 8, but those tolls cannot be confirmed independently.

There has been little official word on any civilian casualties during the offensive.—AFP