50 foreign militants said killed in Pakistan clashes
1 hour, 31 minutes ago
Pakistan's army said Thursday 50 foreign militants including Arabs were among 200 rebels killed in fierce clashes near the Afghan border, indicating the involvement of Al-Qaeda.
Tribesmen revealed that "foreigners" were among the dead during a meeting in the troubled tribal zone of North Waziristan aimed at brokering a formal end to days of intense fighting, the military said.
The clashes were the culmination of three months of violence sparked by a government raid on an Al-Qaeda-linked mosque in Islamabad in July and the collapse of a controversial peace deal in North Waziristan.
Of the dead foreign rebels "25 have been recognised as Uzbek and the remaining 25 are from Tajikistan, Afghanistan and of Arab descent," a military statement said, citing the tribesmen.
"This is one of the heaviest tolls suffered by the foreigners," a security official said separately, using the official Pakistani jargon for rebels linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
Residents say many of the dead were civilians, while the army says that 47 Pakistani troops have also died in the fighting that erupted on Sunday. There was no way to independently verify any of the claims.
Hundreds of foreign militants loyal to Bin Laden fled across the border from Afghanistan after US-led forces ousted that country's hardline Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Others, especially Uzbeks, had settled in the tribal belt since the "jihad" to drive Soviet troops out of Afghanistan in the 1980s and had subsequently allied themselves with Bin Laden and the Taliban.
Efforts to broker a formal ceasefire after this week's clashes came under threat on Thursday when the army said two roadside bombs targeting military convoys had exploded in North Waziristan.
"Since there is no ceasefire, whenever militants do something, we will take action," chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said.
Fundamentalist MP and top negotiator Nek Zaman said before heading to peace talks with the local administration that "we hope that both sides will agree to ceasefire and roads will be opened."
But so far there was no "breakthrough" in the talks, said a tribal elder close to members of the jirga, or tribal peace committee, although the army had opened some key roads.
An informal ceasefire began on Wednesday to allow tribesmen to bury some 50 people killed in an airstrike the previous day in the historic village of Ippi.
Thousands of people have fled Ippi and the nearby town of Mir Ali, which has been identified by US ally President Pervez Musharraf as an Al-Qaeda haunt.
The army said elders from two villages near Mir Ali had sought army protection "because militants use their compounds, which are ultimately targeted by retaliating security forces... and inflicting collateral damage on civilians."
The clashes have followed a pattern repeated over the past few years in the rugged tribal zone, whereby Pakistani forces strike at militants for several days after members of the security forces are attacked.
Security sources said there was particular anger this time because the bodies of some soldiers had been found with their throats slit or had been burned.
Meanwhile there was fresh violence in fully government-controlled areas of northwest Pakistan, raising fresh concern that the extremists are spreading their influence from the semi-autonomous tribal regions.
Suspected militants blew up six music shops in North West Frontier Province while a policeman was killed in a resulting firefight, officials said.
Militants also bombed a hair salon, blowing off a barber's hands.
Barbers are sometimes targeted by militants who consider shaving beards un-Islamic. Under the Taliban music was banned in Afghanistan and men were required to grow beards.