Pakistani forces kill 66 Taliban

"During last 24 hours (to Thursday afternoon), 66 terrorists were killed and 9 were apprehended, while one civilian was killed and two were injured in various areas of Malakand, Bunnu and South Waziristan," an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement said.

The operations, which had hitherto been confined to Swat, Buner and Lower Dir districts in the Malakand division of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), have now spread to the southeastern Bunnu district and to South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

To go by the military's figures, over 1,400 Taliban have been killed so far but there is no independent confirmation of this as the media has been barred from the battle zone.

This apart, the military has not lived up to its promise of releasing still and video images from the conflict zone. The only photograph to be released so far is one earlier this week of the army and air force chiefs visiting Mingora, the largest town in Swat district that has been cleared of the Taliban.

The security forces have lost some 115 personnel in the fighting.

Detailing the course of the operations, the ISPR statement said that in Bunnu, the security forces had secured Kotka Saifullah and Sara Bangal, where, during a search operation, 34 terrorists were killed and three were apprehended.

In South Waziristan, about 400 terrorists Wednesday night attacked Siplatoi and Jandola but the assault was repulsed and 22 terrorists were killed. Three soldiers also lost their lives.

The statement said the security forces were consolidating their positions in the secured areas of Swat's Kabbal town and had commenced search and destroy operations at Ashro Kandao, Arkot Qilla and Shakardarra.

The security forces had also secured Sijban town on the Runial-Chuprial road.

In Lower Dir, the ISPR statement said, the siege of Shatkas and Ghazigae villages by lashkars - tribal militias backed by the security forces - was continuing.

"During an exchange of fire at Shatkas, lashkars destroyed terrorists' bunkers, three hideouts and an ammunition dump," the statement said.

The Pakistani military went into action April 26 after the Taliban reneged on a peace deal with the NWFP government and instead moved south from their Swat headquarters and occupied Buner, which is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The fighting has spurred the largest and quickest refugee exodus in recent times, with some three million civilians streaming out of the four districts.

The UN estimates that some $543 million would be required for the relief and rehabilitation of the refugees. On Tuesday, the UN said it had received just $136 million of this, while another $15 million had been pledged.

The US, which has already pledged $110 million, has promised another $200 million. Pakistan has also received pledges of $244 million at an international donors conference in Islamabad in May.

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