Swat: Hundreds of civilians used a ceasefire between a pro-Taliban cleric and the government yesterday to flee a mountain valley where four days of fighting has killed at least 100 people, officials said.
The bloodshed has turned a former tourist destination into a new front in Pakistan's battle with religious extremism and delivered more evid-ence that the conflict is spreading.
Authorities sent some 2,500 extra police and troops into Swat district last week to tackle the followers of Maulana Fazlullah, a militant preacher who has set up a virtual mini-state and sought to impose hardline policies.
The toll from the resultant clashes, 150 km northwest of the capital Islamabad, emerged only after a ceasefire took effect.
Security forces backed by helicopter gunships on Sunday pounded militant hideouts in the mountains of the district.
Badshah Gul Wazir, the home secretary of North West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, said more than 60 militants had been killed in fighting on Sunday.
Wazir said a total of 20 security forces and civilians were killed since Friday, but gave no details. Another eight troops and four police were missing, he said.
On Thursday, a suicide attack on a military truck killed 20 people.
Arshad Majid, District Coordination Officer in Swat, said a group of tribal elders and clerics were holding talks with Fazlullah's close aides.
"The ceasefire was announced by militants after these talks, which are progressing well," said Majid. "We hope there will be peace here soon."
Ali Rahman, a local police official, said about 600 people fled the conflict zone yesterday, many crammed into buses and others on foot. Television footage showed villagers wading across a river and struggling across fields clutching bags of possessions.
Rahman said militants were using the break in hostilities to bury slain comrades.