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Violence flares on Pakistani border with Afghanistan
Mon Mar 9, 2009 9:16am EDT
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By Sahibzada Bahauddin
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani forces killed four militants in a strategically important region on the Afghan border on Monday in the most serious incident in the area since militants declared a ceasefire two weeks ago.
Pakistan is under international pressure to eliminate militant enclaves in lawless ethnic Pashtun areas on the Afghan border from where the Taliban orchestrate their insurgency in Afghanistan and al Qaeda plots violence.
The heaviest fighting in recent months has been in the Bajaur region, opposite Afghanistan's Kunar province. A Pakistani commander said late last month his forces had defeated militants in Bajaur after a six-month campaign.
The hard-pressed militants, led by an al Qaeda ally Faqir Mohammad, declared a unilateral ceasefire in Bajaur on February 23. Although the military rejected a militant offer of talks, fighting petered out.
But early on Monday militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a paramilitary force post near the town of Nawagai, a military official said.
"Forces returned fire and killed four militants," the military official said. Residents of the area confirmed the clash.
Bajaur has long been a major infiltration route into Afghanistan.
There is concern among international forces there that as fighting ebbs in Pakistan, militants will focus more on Afghanistan, where the United States aims to send at least 17,000 more troops in an effort to stabilize the country.
It was not immediately clear if the militants were calling off their ceasefire, but on Sunday evening they released five paramilitary soldiers they captured eight months ago, said tribal elder Malik Burhanuddin.
BROTHER OF "SPY" KILLED
Pakistani authorities last month struck a pact with Islamists in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad but not on the Afghan border. U.S. officials fear the deal in Swat, plagued by violence since 2007, may create another haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban.
In the Mohmand region, which is also on the Afghan border to the south of Bajaur, helicopter gunships attacked militants on Sunday killing 15 of them, a military official and a government official said.
Separately, in South Waziristan, another militant enclave on the Afghan border to the southwest of Bajaur, residents found the bullet-riddled body of a man kidnapped about 10 days ago and killed by militant after being accused of being a U.S. spy.
An audio cassette found lying with the body contained a recording of the man saying he spied for U.S. forces, residents said.
The man also implicated his brother in spying and the brother was shot dead in Wana on Monday, residents said. Continued...
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