Pakistan militant battles rage, 114 killed

Pakistan militant battles rage, 114 killed – Yahoo! News

WANA, Pakistan (AFP) – Tribesmen loyal to the Pakistani government exchanged mortar and rocket fire with foreign Al-Qaeda militants for a third day Wednesday, leaving 114 people dead, the interior minister said.

Army troops also shelled the Uzbek militants sheltering in the mountainous tribal area of South Waziristan bordering

Afghanistan, security officials and residents said, although a military spokesman denied the army was involved.

Pakistani officials said the battle showed that locals now back President Pervez Musharraf’s moves to expel foreign fighters from the area. Musharraf has been under pressure from key ally the United States to tackle them.

“It is the success of the policy that the government has pursued in the region for the betterment of tribal people that they are acting against foreigners,” Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told AFP.

Sherpao said 84 Uzbek militants and 30 local tribesmen, including nine civilians, had been killed. Another 83 Uzbeks were captured by the tribal forces, he said.

The fighting started Monday after ex-Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, whom the government says has come over to its side, ordered followers of Uzbek militant Tahir Yuldashev to disarm.

Officials said Yuldashev, who leads a group called the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, was formerly a close confidant of

Osama bin Laden

. He has been sentenced to death in absentia for bombings in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

Yuldashev and his men were among thousands of militants who fled the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 and sought shelter with ethnic Pashtun tribesmen in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt along the border.

Almost two-thirds of the fatalities have occurred since Tuesday night, when Nazir gave the Uzbeks a deadline to leave Kalusha, the town where the violence has been centered.

Residents and a senior security official said troops launched shells at foreign militants early Wednesday after the insurgents fired on their camp in Wana, the capital of South Waziristan.

Smoke was also seen billowing after army artillery destroyed two bunkers that militants had recently set up on the outskirts of the city to fight the local tribesmen, residents said.

But Pakistani military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said “government forces are not involved in the tribal feud.”

Meanwhile, local Taliban militants allied with the tribesmen attacked and seized control of a private jail being run by Uzbek militants in Azam Warsak, near Kalusha, the officials said.

The local militants freed three local tribesmen and one Afghan who were chained up, they said. An amount of explosives stored at the jail also exploded, causing an unknown number of casualties.

A tribal council, or jirga, led by a mullah from a leading pro-Taliban Islamic party had left for Wana in a bid to negotiate a truce, officials said.

The fighting ended a ceasefire negotiated about two weeks ago after 19 people died in fierce gunbattles between Yuldashev’s supporters and tribesmen in Azam Warsak.

Musharraf launched a series of military offensives between 2003 and early this year to clear foreign insurgents from the border region. Around 700 soldiers and 1,000 militants have died in the operations.

Yuldashev was wounded during major battles with Pakistani forces in Azam Warsak in March 2004. At one point officials thought Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri was involved, but this was later denied.

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