ISLAMABAD, Aug 19, 2009 (AFP) - About 1.3 million Pakistanis who fled a punishing military offensive against Taliban rebels in the northwest earlier this year have returned home, a United Nations official said Wednesday.
The push against insurgents forced 1.9 million civilians from their homes, most seeking refuge with relatives and the rest packing into refugee camps, creating a humanitarian crisis for impoverished Pakistan.
"The best estimate that we can make now is that approximately 1.3 million displaced people have returned home," Pakistan's UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Mogwanja told reporters in Islamabad.
Pakistan launched the military operation in the districts of Buner, Lower Dir and Swat after armed Islamist militants advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad last April in defiance of a peace deal.
Pakistan's military says it has now cleared the three districts of insurgents, and officials have urged the displaced people to return.
But skirmishes continue, raising fears that the Taliban are regrouping in the mountains, a tactic militants adopted after offensives in the past.
"While many of the displaced people are returning to Buner and Swat, the military operation is still going on in some parts of Swat and Lower Dir," Mogwanja said, adding that the UN was monitoring the situation.
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 sharia law.
Pakistan says more than 1,900 militants and over 166 security personnel were killed in the offensive since late April but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently.