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Pakistani forces kill 35 militants

PAKISTANI helicopter gunships and mortar teams pounded militant strongholds yesterday, killing about 35 in Swat Valley, the military said, as Taliban reinforcements poured down from their mountain hideouts and seized homes and government buildings.

The army began taking the fight to militants entrenched in both Swat Valley and in Buner, just 100 kilometers from the Islamabad.

Since fighting broke out on Tuesday, thousands of men, women and children have fled Swat's main town of Mingora and surrounding districts, fearing an imminent major military operation. The government said it believes refugees could reach 500,000.

"It is an all-out war there. Rockets are landing everywhere," said Laiq Zada, a 33-year old who fled the valley late on Tuesday and was now in a government-run tent camp away from the danger zone. "We have with us the clothes on our bodies and a hope in the house of God. Nothing else."

The clashes followed the collapse of a three-month-old truce with militants, who had fought the army to a standstill in two years of clashes that saw hundreds of civilian casualties.

The Swat Taliban are estimated to have up to 7,000 fighters against some 15,000 troops, who until recent days had been confined to their barracks under the peace deal.

The military said yesterday's offensive killed about 35 militants positioned in the Swat Valley and 27 in neighboring Buner, where troops have halted a Taliban push toward the capital.

The Taliban killed two soldiers with a roadside bomb and two more in an assault on a power plant near Mingora, a military statement said.

"Armed militants have come down from their hideouts into the cities and have occupied civil houses and government buildings" as well as planting bombs, the statement said.


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