Suspected Taliban among bodies found in Swat Valley

Officials in Pakistan have announced that the dead bodies of 14 people have been found in the Swat Valley, where the military has been fighting Islamist extremists. Most of the bodies are thought to be those of Taliban militants.


AFP - The bodies of 14 men, most of them suspected Taliban, have been found in Pakistan's Swat valley, officials said Tuesday, raising fears of extra-judicial killings or brutal revenge attacks.

Pakistan's military claims to have cleared Swat of Islamist extremists in an offensive launched earlier this year after militants extended their grip into the valley, terrorising residents with public beheadings and other violence.

But in the past two months, officials say up to 200 bodies -- some displaying marks of torture -- have turned up in Swat, in a sign that violence still grips the once-peaceful tourist hideaway.

"The number of bodies found in Swat since Monday rose to 14 with the discovery of three more bodies from Danagram area on the edges of Swat on Tuesday," local government official Ateef-ur-Rehman told AFP.

A security official who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media confirmed the number of corpses. Eleven bodies had been discovered in various areas of Swat late Monday.

"Most of the corpses have bullet wounds while some of them are without heads," he told AFP. "We cannot rule out the fact that locals are now taking revenge on the militants."

Rehman said that while most of the corpses were believed to be dead militants, three of them were local policemen.

Earlier this month, 18 suspected militants turned up dead in Swat under similar circumstances, some with their skulls smashed in.

A military official said that since July, almost 200 bodies of militants and some civilians had been found in the region, while Rehman put the toll at 192.

Human rights activists have raised concerns about extra-judicial killings, which they say could have been carried out by security forces.

"These imprudent acts must be stopped... There should be an investigation into who killed them," said Iqbal Haider, co-chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

"If we condemn the Taliban for brutality and barbarism, then the response by security forces should not be equally barbaric."

The military has denied involvement in the killings, blaming furious local residents avenging the Taliban's brief reign in Swat.

"Reports are that the locals killed these people, who were mostly militants, to avenge destruction and loss of life," the security official told AFP.

Another military official said: "We have received information that residents fearing a Taliban comeback were killing them."

Swat slipped out of government control after radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah mounted a violent campaign in which his followers beheaded opponents, burnt schools and fought government troops to enforce sharia law.

The Pakistani army launched an offensive in late April to dislodge Taliban guerrillas from the districts of Buner, Lower Dir and Swat after rebels flouted a peace deal and marched further south towards the capital, Islamabad.

Pakistan says more than 1,930 militants and over 170 security personnel have been killed in the offensive since late April, but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently.

Pakistani authorities have also advocated the establishment of local militia in the northwest to try and keep the Taliban at bay, amid reports that the Islamist fighters have simply melted into the mountains to regroup.

Fazlullah also remains at large, and clashes continue to erupt in Swat.

The military said Tuesday that 11 people who had worked with the Taliban had surrendered to police in the region in the past day, while three suspected rebels were killed and seven others arrested.

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