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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 December 2007, 13:44 GMT
Pakistan army retakes Swat towns
A fire burns after Pakistani forces shelled a suspected militant position near Fizagat, Swat valley, 20 November
Pakistani forces have been battling the militants for weeks
Troops in north-west Pakistan have retaken two Swat valley towns that were strongholds of pro-Taleban cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

They have also captured the village of Imam Dehri, which was used by Maulana Fazlullah to broadcast radio messages in support of the militants.

The army says the two recaptured towns are Matta and Khawazakhela.

They say dozens of captives of the militants have been freed from a makeshift prison.

'Greatly welcomed'

The Pakistani military says nearly 250 pro-Taleban fighters have been killed since an offensive in the Swat valley was launched two weeks ago.

They say that 15 soldiers and 30 civilians also lost their lives.

Pakistani militants loyal to pro-Taleban cleric Mullah Fazlullah at Matta in Swat district (file photo)
Many of the militants are linked to al-Qaeda and the Taleban

An army statement said that soldiers on Wednesday took control of Matta and on Thursday expelled militants from Khawazakhela.

"Local people of Matta have greatly welcomed the arrival of security forces," the statement said.

Army troops entered Imam Dehri early on Thursday, backed by helicopter gunships.

A 24-hour curfew has been imposed throughout the Swat valley.

The curfew is reported to have badly affected local businesses.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan says that the militants also appear to have pulled back from the town of Puchaar in western Swat, on the border with Dir district.

Our correspondent says that while troops may have taken a number of towns held by the militants in Swat, the conflict is far from over.

The fighting in Swat is the first serious insurgent threat from pro-Taleban forces in what is known as a settled area of Pakistan.

Forces loyal to Maulana Fazlullah, including some foreign fighters, had taken control of a series of small towns and villages, where they tried to implement strict Islamic law.

Until now the army has focused on fighting militants mainly on the largely autonomous Waziristan tribal areas along the Afghan border.



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