IHT : Fighting in northwestern Pakistan leaves 10 militants dead, military says

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fighting in northwestern Pakistan leaves 10 militants dead, military says

The Associated Press | October 28, 2007

SWAT, Pakistan: Security forces backed by helicopter gunships killed 10 suspected insurgents Sunday in a mountainous valley in northwestern Pakistan, where the government is battling supporters of a militant pro-Taliban cleric, the military said.

Militants opened fire on security forces in the Manglore and Kot areas of Swat district, prompting retaliatory fire from troops backed by the helicopters, the military's public relations department said in a statement.

It said 10 insurgents were killed in the ongoing gunbattle.

A rise in militancy in the northwest has shaken the authority of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S. war on terror, and the latest violence represents an escalation in tensions between his government and the rebels.

Militants have been fighting security forces in Swat since Friday, when the military raided the stronghold of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz expressed hope that talks between North West Frontier Province Chief Minister Shamsul Mulk and tribal elders in the troubled region would prevent further bloodshed.

"Hopefully the approach being adopted will produce better results," Aziz said Sunday in the southern city of Karachi. Police and paramilitary troops continued to be engaged in fighting with militants there, he said.

Twenty-five people have so far been killed in the violence since Friday, including six security personnel and seven civilians beheaded by militants, officials said. A suicide blast in Mingora, Swat's main town, killed 20 people Thursday.

Over the weekend, militants captured a police post in the nearby village of Charbagh.

Security forces have driven militants from Fizagat, a village on the outskirts of Mingora, the military statement said.

Meanwhile, police and paramilitary troops set up sandbagged bunkers in Kabal, a town near Mingora dominated by supporters of Fazlullah. Kabal's bazaar was closed because of an unofficial curfew, another police official said on condition of anonymity for the same reason.

In the nearby village of Tiligram, militants blew up an unmanned police post. The explosion was near a Buddha statue, but it was not known if the relic suffered any damage, one of the police officials said.

Authorities sent 2,500 paramilitary troops to Swat to fight supporters of Fazlullah, who has launched a Taliban-style Islamization campaign in the once-peaceful and scenic district, and has called for a jihad, or holy war, against the government.

Fazlullah is the leader of the banned pro-Taliban group Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammedi, or Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law.

In Malakand, a rugged area bordering Swat, authorities dropped pamphlets from airplanes on Sunday, urging residents to help "the government in purging (Malakand) of terrorists," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported. The government made similar appeals in Swat a day earlier.

Separately, three rockets hit the provincial capital of Peshawar before dawn Sunday, one striking a politician's house opposite the U.S. Consulate, but no one was hurt, police said.

Associated Press Writer Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad and Zarar Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.