Page last updated at 14:29 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 15:29 UK

Return 'gathers pace' in Pakistan

A convoy of buses carries displaced people back to the Swat valley, Pakistan
Convoys of buses begin the journey back to the Swat valley

An estimated 8,800 people displaced by fighting in the Swat valley have left relief camps to return to their homes, Pakistani officials say.

A further 7,200 people are expected to leave by the end of Tuesday and others who have been staying with relatives are making their own way back.

Those leaving camps are being bused back with a military escort.

Pakistan's prime minister said last week it was safe for people to return home after an anti-Taliban offensive.

Col Waseem, spokesman for the army's Special Support Group, told BBC Urdu on Tuesday that the 8,800 people leaving the camps consisted of about 1,100 families.

"By the end of today another 900 families are expected to leave and enter the Malakand region," he added.

He said the repatriation had started slowly on Monday but had picked up pace on Tuesday.

But the volume of people is still far short of the number expected to return in the initial wave.

"A major reason for the slow movement is the registration process," said Mohammad Rum, a field official for a local relief organisation.

"Another reason is that people are using their own transport to get back. They have to negotiate multiple checkpoints and this takes a lot of time."

He said the displaced people were therefore taking irregular routes to return home, thus increasing the time it took to reach their destination.

Displaced people from four relief camps have now chosen to return home, officials say. Most are heading to Mardan.

Those in the camps are travelling on arranged trucks and buses.

Launched in April after militants took area 100km from Islamabad
Army says some 1,700 militants killed; but none of their leaders
One of biggest human migrations of recent times, with 2m displaced

They were escorted by soldiers as helicopters hovered overhead for their journey.

The heavy security showed that despite government claims, the Taliban remain a threat in the region.

The government has said it expects all displaced people to return to Swat by the end of July.

But, relief workers say, that may not be possible as people still have concerns over Swat that have yet to be resolved.

One camp resident, Abdul Kabir, told the BBC: "I am not going back willingly as my children fear the fighting will restart.

"The government say they will not provide me the grant and transportation if we don't leave now so I don't have any option."


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