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Troops clash with militants near Afghan border

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-29

At least three civilians have died in clashes between militants and security forces in a tribal area of Pakistan's South Waziristan, where the government is expected to launch an offensive against Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

AFP - At least three civilians were killed and seven wounded in clashes between militants and security forces in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt, officials said Monday.

The battle erupted overnight in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, a mountainous area outside direct government control on the Afghan border, where Pakistani forces are targeting Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud.

"First militants fired rockets at army camp Wana, after which troops responded with artillery fire," said local government official Ghafoor Shah.

"One of the shells hit people coming out of a mosque in Kaloosha village and killed three people and wounded another seven," Shah told AFP.

It was not clear where the shell was fired from. Security officials in the area confirmed the death toll.

Kaloosha lies about 17 kilometres (10 miles) west of Wana.

Pakistan on Sunday offered a 615,000-US-dollar reward for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of Mehsud, who is holed up in South Waziristan and who has been blamed for some of the worst attacks in Pakistan.

Fighter jets and helicopter gunships have pounded Mehsud hideouts for weeks, and a ground offensive is expected in the wake of assaults since late April to root out the Taliban from three districts of North West Frontier Province.

The military says those assaults are nearly over and has urged two million people displaced by the fighting to return home, although many areas have been devastated by the offensive and sporadic fighting has rumbled on.

In Buner, where Taliban militants advanced towards Islamabad two months ago, sparking military operations under US pressure, a bomb exploded Monday wounding at least eight people, three of them security officials, police said.

The bomb exploded in a bazaar in Swarhi town as displaced civilians queued up to collect food from a state-run depot after recently returning from camps, said police officer Abdul Rashid Khan.

"The bomb, planted under a bridge, wounded eight people including three police officials," he told AFP. A private car was also damaged, he added.

About two million people have fled Pakistan's punishing ground and air assault against Taliban fighters in the districts of Buner, Lower Dir and Swat.

UN officials urged Pakistani authorities last week to ensure the areas were secure before the displaced return home.
 

Date created : 2009-06-29

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