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Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 11:10 UK

Killings continue bloodshed in Swat

A Pakistani soldier ties hands of an alleged Taliban activist near Mingora in Pakistan on Sept. 1, 2009
Rights groups accuse troops of killing Taliban militants in custody

Pakistan's government declared its anti-Taliban offensive in the Swat valley a success in July. But, as the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan reports from Islamabad, the cycle of violence has continued with the corpses of suspected militants turning up across the valley.

There is a chilling undertone to the violence in Swat these days.

Local journalists say that 230 bodies have been found in the valley since 13 July - the day refugees began to stream back to their homes in the war-torn region.

The killings have been carried out execution style and the bodies are believed to be of suspected Taliban militants.

Until April, the insurgents held complete sway over the district.

"Some of them were captured by the army during battles between the two sides," says Ashraf, a local shopkeeper in the region's main town Mingora.

"But many others were arrested later during search and siege operations after the security forces had taken control."

Journalists and human rights organisations believe many of these "prisoners of war" have since been killed in custody.

They say it is retaliation for the brutal killing of security personnel by the Taliban.

They also believe it is to terrorise the remaining Taliban into giving up attacks on security forces here.

'Rubbish'

But the army strongly denies this.

"It is all rubbish," says Maj Gen Athar Abbas, head of the Pakistani army's public relations wings.

"We have spoken to everyone in the local administration and police as well and they say no such incidents have happened."

However, the country's main human rights group, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says it has "found credible evidence" of wrongdoing by the security agencies.

Families who fled Swat valley due to fighting between security forces and Taliban militants on their way back on Sept. 1, 2009
Residents returning home to Swat say they are still finding bodies

"It is vital for the success of the military operation against terrorists that the security forces' actions are distinguishable from the atrocities committed by the Taliban," said Asma Jahangir, head of the organisation in a recent press release.

The army says it is willing to investigate such incidents, if credible evidence or witnesses are provided.

"We have already said come to us, but you have to reveal the source," says Gen Abbas.

"We do want to investigate this. But for that to happen the sources have to be credible. We cannot carry out inquiries on their mere saying so.

"If the people who are telling them are afraid, we are willing to provide protection."

But it is not fear that is preventing locals from going public with what is now an open secret here.

"Why should we come forward to help them," says Shafiq, who lives in Swat's Kabal sub-district.

"Everybody knows the bodies are of militants who had been arrested by the security agencies.

"So what if they have been killed? It was the Taliban who started this and what they did was much worse."

Hating the Taliban

"We all saw how brutally the Taliban killed security personnel and common citizens alike," says Ashraf from Mingora.

"We all saw the bodies hanging in the city centre. The Taliban should expect no better."

This hatred, it seems, is now a pervasive sentiment in this place, once known for its tolerance.

Pakistani troops in Pakistan's Swat valley
Troops deny they are killing Taliban militants

"The people hate the Taliban as they hold them largely responsible for the current situation," says a local journalist.

"They are quite pleased to see them getting what many feel are just deserts."

To many such sentiments are hardly unseemly considering the experience of coming back to a destroyed ancestral home littered with the bodies of loved ones.

Much of the destruction was wreaked by Taliban militants.

Bu human rights activists and journalists say that does not justify what the security forces are allegedly doing.

"Taliban justice has been rightly condemned for its brutal and arbitrary nature and was crucial in helping turn the public opinion against the extremists," Ms Jahangir says.

"But treatment of individuals by the government must aspire to a higher standard."

And the treatment of militants is not the only concern here.

'Innocents detained'

"The security forces are continuing to conduct operations in the Swat valley," points out a local journalist.

"While many militants have been arrested in these raids, a lot of innocent people have also been detained," he says.

"The security forces often storm into houses from whose perimeter they have been fired upon. Most of these houses are used by the Taliban without the consent of the poor owner.

"But what happens is that when they [security forces] arrive, the militants have already left. The people in the household are then the focus of their wrath and the male members are usually dragged off," he said

Reports says that many of those taken away have not been heard from since.

For this reason, while the locals are generally glad to be rid of the Taliban, the presence of the security forces is not altogether welcome.

Families are, reportedly, still made to wait for hours at checkpoints and security forces still allegedly detain people without giving reasons.

But the army denies the charges.

"We are here to help and protect the civil population. I can tell you we take strong notice of any abuse of power," Gen Abbas says.

"We have carried out investigations and I can assure you there is no basis for such views.

"But you should understand the army is conducting an operation and we cannot go around investigating every baseless accusation."

For the people in Swat though there is no real end to the bloodshed.

"A few months ago we used to come out of our mosques and find bodies lying nearby, murdered by the Taliban," a local journalist says.

"Now we come out, and the bodies are still there. The only difference is that the security forces are now doing the killing."

Names of people and places (within Swat) have been changed to protect identities

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