Page last updated at 13:43 GMT, Sunday, 31 May 2009 14:43 UK

Pakistan 'nearing Swat victory'

Syed Athar Ali said the Swat operations had 'almost met complete success'

Pakistan's operation against Taliban rebels in the Swat valley region should be over in the next few days, the country's defence secretary has said.

Syed Athar Ali told a meeting of Asian nations in Singapore that only "5% to 10% of the job" remains.

But an army spokesman said it was not possible to predict when the military operation would be completed.

The Red Cross said it was "gravely concerned" by the humanitarian situation in Swat.

Meanwhile, 40 militants were killed in an attack on a Pakistani army base near the Afghan border, officials said.

Officials said four soldiers were also killed in an eight-hour gun battle at the camp in South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold.

"Militants came in force and attacked a paramilitary camp and fighting lasted for eight hours," an intelligence official in the region told Reuters news agency.

'Elusive enemy'

The army has said it will pursue "hardcore" rebels after recapturing Mingora, the main city in Swat.

Mingora was home to 300,000 people before the fighting began.

Pakistan's army said essential services were being restored to the city.

"The main cities in the Swat valley stand clear today. The operation is being conducted in the countryside to the right and left of the valley and to the North... so the operation is ongoing and it will take a little more time," army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the BBC.

But while Maj Gen Abbas said the remaining militants were being hunted down, he could not confirm when the army's operation in the area would be complete.

"It's difficult to give a timeline because this is an elusive enemy that has strongholds in the countryside," he said.

With journalists barred from the area, it is impossible to verify the situation independently.

The International Red Cross said water and electricity were not available in Swat, there was no fuel for generators, most medical facilities had stopped operating and food was scarce.

"The people of Swat need greater humanitarian protection and assistance immediately," said Pascal Cuttat, head of the organisation's delegation in Pakistan.

Some 2.5 million people have fled their homes since military operations began in Swat more than a month ago.

Bounty raised

Soldiers continued to patrol Mingora's largely deserted streets on Saturday, securing neighbourhoods and checking houses for booby-traps.


People shop amid the rubble in Mingora, a day after the army said it was retaken

Pakistan has increased its reward for the capture of the Taliban leader in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, to 50m rupees ($600,000).

The radical cleric is believed to be the architect of a two-year uprising in the valley aimed at enforcing Islamic law.

It is thought that the Taliban responded to the military campaign this week with a major suicide bomb attack on the country's second-biggest city, Lahore, as well as bombings in two other cities in the north-west.

The US is giving full backing to the Pakistani operations, which are linked to its own offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan, our correspondent says.


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