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Pakistani Taliban Spokesman Claims Swat Valley Leader is Alive, Unharmed

A spokesman for the Taliban in Pakistan says the group's Swat Valley leader, Maulana Fazlullah, is alive and denies reports that he was wounded.

Earlier this month, the Pakistani military said Fazlullah was wounded during an air strike in the northwest.

Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told news agencies Thursday that Fazlullah is alive and unharmed. He also said all of the Taliban leadership in Swat is well but in hiding.

Fazlullah is blamed for suicide bombings and attacks against government and civilian targets. His followers have fought for nearly two years to establish strict Islamic law (Sharia) in Swat Valley.

Pakistan has offered a reward of $600,000 for information leading to his capture.

Pakistani officials say more than 350,000 of the nearly two million people displaced by the military operation in the northwest have returned home.

Pakistan's government started returning displaced people early last week after saying it had cleared parts of the northwest of Taliban militants.

Authorities said they suspended return efforts for a day Thursday to give workers a break.

Many of those displaced are living in host communities in makeshift or crowded conditions, while others are in congested camps. U.N. agencies say they are focusing on minimizing the effects of flooding and the spread of disease in these areas during the country's monsoon (rainy) season.

Pakistani armed forces launched what has become a three-month-long offensive after militants violated a peace deal to impose strict Islamic law in parts of Malakand district, including Swat Valley.

The army also is pounding militant targets in South Waziristan ahead of a campaign to hunt down Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.