32 killed in clashes in north-west Pakistan



Islamabad: At least 32 people, most of them Islamist insurgents, were killed Saturday in clashes with pro-government tribesmen and airstrikes by Pakistani military in the restive north-western region, security officials said.

Jet fighters pounded the hideouts of Taliban militants in Orakzai Agency, one of seven districts in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border, killing at least 10 rebels.

"Unknown numbers of terrorists were wounded while the airstrikes destroyed their five hideouts and training camps," said an intelligence agent, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The aerial assaults came as Pakistani forces were planning an offensive in the district. Hundreds of Taliban fleeing a military operation in the neighbouring region of South Waziristan region are believed to have taken shelter there.

The Waziristan offensive has also forced hundreds more rebels to move to a tribal district in Kurram Agency where local residents have formed a lashkar or tribal militia against them.

Dozens of tribesmen and militants clashed Saturday, targeting each other's positions with rocket propelled grenades and mortar guns in Central Kurram Agency.

The fighting started when Islamist rebels attacked some members of the lashkar, killing two of them and setting their houses on fire.

"According to the information we have received so far, 20 miscreants (Islamist militants) and two local tribesmen were killed in the fighting that still continues," said another intelligence agent, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

Locals in parts of the tribal regions, which Washington has described as the most dangerous place in the world and a hub of global terrorism, have raised several anti-Taliban lashkars.

But these militias, made up of part-time, ill-equipped volunteers, have with few exceptions not yet yielded the expected results against the well-organised and well-armed Taliban.

Further efforts were underway for a large scale mobilisation of tribesmen against the militants.

Around 3,000 elders representing the 20 largest Pashtun tribes in the tribal region and adjoining North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) are to meet in Peshawar, the NWFP's capital, Saturday to discuss ways of mobilising people against the Taliban.

The meeting was being organised by the tribal organisation Peace Movement.

IANS