Pakistani authorities temporarily lifted a curfew in the war-torn Swat valley, allowing thousands of people to flee, as the military prepares to fight the Taliban in the main town of Mingora.

The military lifted the curfew in Mingora and nearby districts for eight hours Friday (until 2:00 p.m. local time, or 0800 UTC).  Cars and buses full of people streamed out of the area, while many others traveled by foot, heading for refugee camps set up in the south.

Officials say more than 900,000 people have fled their homes in the last few weeks as the fighting has intensified, in addition to another half-million who had fled earlier unrest.

The army Friday said it had killed 55 Taliban militants in Swat in the previous 24 hours. 

Military: some militants also fleeing after makeover

As troops prepare to fight in Taliban-held Mingora, the military claims some of the militants have been cutting their hair and shaving their beards before fleeing the area.

The violence erupted with the collapse of a cease-fire between the government and Taliban militants who control much of the region.

Pakistan launched a major offensive to eliminate the Taliban after the Islamist militants advanced to within 100 kilometers of the capital, Islamabad.

France offers help

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari announced Friday that France has pledged $16 million to help displaced people in Pakistan, following his meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.

On Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani warned that the government could lose popular support if it fails to deal with the flood of refugees fleeing the violence.

He told parliament the exodus of people from the Swat valley is the largest mass displacement in Pakistan since the country was founded in 1947.

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