Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 12:20 UK

Pakistan army 'retakes key town'

Pakistan soldiers in Buner district, 29 April, 2009
Pakistan ground forces linked up with air forces in Dagar

The Pakistan army says it has taken control of a key town in Buner district in the north-west, a day after starting an offensive against the Taleban.

Soldiers were dropped from helicopters into the town of Dagar and were linking up with ground forces.

The area is less than 100km (60 miles) from the capital, Islamabad.

The government is concerned the Taleban are trying to extend their control beyond the Swat Valley, an area which they largely control already.

"The airborne forces have linked up to police and Frontier Constabulary in Dagar," the military spokesman said.

"A link-up with ground forces is in progress."

The army said 50 militants and one soldier were killed.

Two ammunition dumps were destroyed by security forces and 70 members of the security forces were abducted by militants, with 18 later released, the army said.

The army launched its assault in the valley, only a few hours drive from Islamabad, on Tuesday afternoon as jets bombed militant positions.

Pakistan military equipment is moved along a road in Buner district
The Pakistan army said 50 militants were killed in the Dagar operation

The BBC's Mark Dummett in Islamabad says that the army's assault in the valley means there is a real fear now that the violence will spread.

But our correspondent says that so far the government's peace deal with radical clerics in the Swat Valley seems to be holding.

Dagar resident Saleem Dil Khan said when the army arrived "a lot of firing took place early in the morning, a curfew is imposed in the area and they are not allowing us to come out of our houses.

"We are very much worried."

The Pakistan government says there are as many as 500 armed Taleban fighters in Buner in violation of a peace agreement.

The peace deal between the two sides this year allowed Sharia law to be adopted in large parts of Malakand division - which includes Buner, the Swat Valley and Lower Dir - in return for the Taleban laying down arms.

Fighting in Lower Dir, another mountainous region in the north-west, had ended, said chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas, according to the AFP news agency.

Exodus slows

However the BBC's M Ilyas Khan - who is in Lower Dir - says that house-to-house searches in the town of Maidan are continuing.

Our correspondent says that the large exodus of people fleeing Lower Dir towards the town of Mardan - further south - to escape the fighting has now reduced to a trickle.

Most roads in Lower Dir are still closed to traffic, but the authorities are allowing pedestrians to use them.

The army said about 75 militants and 10 security personnel died in the operation. There is no independent confirmation of the figures.

Tens of thousands of people had fled the area and many houses were damaged.

The increase in army activity follows criticism from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Pakistan was abdicating to the Taleban.

Last week she said the Taleban posed a "mortal threat" to the world security.

Pakistan map showing Dagar

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