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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 November 2007, 17:11 GMT
Thousands flee Pakistan fighting
Taleban police station sign
Signpost to a Taleban police station in the town of Matta
Thousands of people have fled fighting between government troops and pro-Taleban militants in Pakistan's northern Swat district.

A senior army commander said on Saturday that the army was launching a full scale offensive in the area.

Swat has been the centre of fighting which has claimed some 100 lives since hostilities began in October.

The fighting began after supporters of a pro-Taleban cleric moved to implement his version of Islamic law in the area.

Meanwhile in Washington the Pentagon has announced plans to nearly double its spending on training and equipping Pakistan's Frontier Corps which operates in the border region with Afghanistan.

Ghost towns

"Thousands of people are leaving, with whatever belongings they can carry," a local journalist in Swat told the BBC.

Militants in Swat

"I saw the entire village of Kabal, near the city of Mingora, empty over night."

Locals say two other militant strongholds, Matta and Charbagh, are also rapidly becoming ghost towns.

Most of the refugees are reported to have moved to Mingora or Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.

There were more reports of fighting on Tuesday.

Militants said they had recaptured two checkpoints they had retreated from after coming under fire from helicopter attacks.

But a military spokesman said the army was in "total command of the situation".

"The Taleban are making false claims," he said.

Locals told the BBC the positions had been re-occupied by the militants after hours of fierce fighting.

Interior ministry officials have told the BBC that 120 militants have been killed in the fighting so far.

The militants says they have killed over 30 members of the security forces.

Meanwhile, a ceasefire has been enforced by a tribal council in the nearby Kurrum tribal area which has been the scene of deadly clashes between rival Sunni and Shia sects in recent days.

'More efficient'

In Washington the Pentagon says it will increase spending on training and equipping the Frontier Corps from $52m to $97m.

The BBC's Vincent Dowd in Washington says the funding is expected to add four new battalions to the Frontier Corps, which is deployed along the Afghan border areas.

A Pentagon spokesman said arming Pakistan's Frontier Corps remains a matter for the government in Islamabad.

But he said the extra funding from the US would make the corps more efficient.

The Americans say the aim is to counter the growing strength of al-Qaeda on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

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