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Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 12:34 UK

Bodies found in Pakistan valley

The body of a suspected militant is found in Mingora (21 August 2009)
Residents and human rights groups have called for an investigation

The bodies of 22 suspected militants have been found in Pakistan's Swat valley in the past day, officials say.

Corpses allegedly began appearing several weeks ago. Officials said 18 were found in the region last week.

Local residents say the Pakistani security forces have been carrying out extra-judicial killings as part of their offensive against the Taliban.

The army and police have denied the accusations, saying locals could be behind the killings for "revenge".

A leading Pakistani human rights watchdog says it has received "credible reports of numerous extra-judicial killings and reprisals carried out by security forces".

"We call for a proper investigation to find out who killed them, who were the dead, whether they were militants, innocent people or bystander," IA Rehman, of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told the Reuters news agency.

"We've already demanded an investigation but nothing has happened. It's a serious matter and must be looked into," he said.

'Blindfolded'

Three bodies were found in the Danagram area on the outskirts of Swat's central town of Mingora on Tuesday morning, a security official told BBC Urdu, bringing the total number discovered in the past day to 22.

Previously we were afraid of the Taliban. Now, we're afraid of the army
Mingora resident

He said the victims had not yet been identified.

On Monday, local officials said 19 corpses had been recovered from areas around the Malam Jabba road, north of Mingora.

Witnesses said most of the victims had been shot, some several times. They were blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs, and dumped in fields or alleys.

"Previously we were afraid of the Taliban. Now, we're afraid of the army," one man told the Associated Press news agency.

Military officials have confirmed that the army has been conducting operations in areas where the bodies have been found.

A top government official in the region, Malakand division commissioner Fazal Karim Khattak, told the BBC that the appearance of the bodies had become a "puzzle".

But he rejected the local view that the security forces had been killing suspected Taliban fighters extra-judicially after detaining them.

Pakistani troops in Mingora (15 August 2009)
The army has been operating in areas where the bodies have been found

"I have recommended to the provincial government to hold an inquiry into the circumstances that have led to these deaths," he said.

A military spokesman, Maj Gen Athar Abbas, said he believed the killings could have been the "result of revenge by local people".

"It could be a reaction to all that happened to the people in Swat," he said.

While the Taliban controlled the valley, militants dumped bodies of alleged collaborators on the streets to terrify people into submission, correspondents say.

Officials say people have been discovering unidentified bodies dumped in the Swat valley since mid-July, when internal refugees who had fled the area in April in the wake of the army offensive returned.

According to one estimate, more than 120 corpses have been found in total. Other officials believe the figure could be as high as 200.

Aid appeal

At the beginning of this year, the Pakistani government reached a peace deal with the Taliban, under which the militants were supposed to disarm in exchange for the implementation of Sharia law throughout the Malakand division, which includes the Swat valley.

But fighting erupted in April after the Taliban expanded their operations into districts only 96km (60 miles) from the capital, Islamabad, and the army accused them of reneging on the pact.

As the fighting intensified some two million people were displaced. Many of those started returning home in July after the army said it had largely secured the valley. Isolated skirmishes are continuing.

The government says more than 1,700 militants and 170 troops were killed in the fighting, and that the local militant leader, Maulana Fazullah, was seriously injured. The Taliban have denied the report, but not provided any evidence to prove that he is alive.

Earlier, Pakistan's foreign minister urged a group of donor countries to release billions of dollars in promised aid to help the government hold on to recent gains against the Taliban by winning hearts and minds.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the displaced had to be helped to return home and opportunities created for starting a new life - all of which required resources.

Meanwhile, the former French permanent representative at the United Nations in New York, Jean-Maurice Ripert, has been appointed the UN's special envoy for assistance to Pakistan.

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