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41 more corpses found in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Sep 1 – At least 41 bodies, mostly of Taliban militants, have been found in Pakistan’s Swat valley over the past 24 hours, officials said Tuesday, describing them as revenge killings by residents.

The corpses, six of them beheaded, were dumped on the roadside, riverside and fields in different areas.

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 northwest valley, terrorising residents with public beheadings and other violence.

Officials said a total of 251 people had been found dead in similar circumstances since July, and believed that the militants were killed by residents who feared a Taliban comeback.

"Among the 41 dead bodies, six were beheaded, almost all of them were militants," Atif-ur-Rehman, the top administrative official of Swat district, told AFP, adding that the rest had bullet wounds.

"According to my information they were militants and were killed by residents," Rehman said.

Fourteen police cadets were killed Sunday in a suicide attack in the main town in Swat valley which police blamed on Taliban militants.

"People are now familiar with dead bodies, it is becoming a routine," Swat resident Sakhawat Ali, 34, said.

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"We see dead bodies almost every morning, most of them are Taliban," he told AFP.

Pakistan in April launched a punishing military offensive against the Taliban in the northwest after the militants advanced closer to the capital Islamabad.

The military push forced 1.9 million civilians from their homes, most of them seeking refuge with relatives and the rest crowding into refugee camps, creating a humanitarian crisis for impoverished Pakistan.

Last month, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that the military had "eliminated" extremists in the northwest and according to government and UN statistics 1.6 million displaced people have returned home.

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 against government troops to enforce Islamic sharia law.

Pakistan says more than 2,000 militants and over 170 security personnel have been killed in the government offensive, but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently.

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