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PAKISTAN

Several children killed by a bomb they 'found'

4 min

A bomb killed 12 children in northwest Pakistan (photo), an area effectively under Taliban control after a government-signed peace accord. The children died when a bomb they found near a girls' school exploded.

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AFP - A bomb killed 12 children on Saturday in a restive part of northwest Pakistan which the government has put under Islamic law as part of a shaky peace deal with the Taliban, police said.

Officials had earlier said at least four children died in the blast which came after a warning this week by the United States that Islamist advances in northwest Pakistan pose "an existential threat" to the country.

"The children had found the bomb outside a girls' primary school in Luqman Banda village of Lower Dir town," a local police official said.

The victims included seven boys and five girls ranging between five and 13 years old, said the official, Said Zaman.

He said that "the bomb was of oval shape and it exploded while children were playing with it in the compound of their house not knowing that it was an explosive device".

Four others including a woman were wounded in the blast, he said, adding that an investigation had been launched to ascertain what kind of bomb it was and how the children got hold of it.

Another local police official Sultan Mehmood also confirmed the incident and the death toll.

Lower Dir is 75 kilometres (46 miles) west of Swat, once a popular ski resort frequented by Westerners but where the government has effectively lost control after a violent two-year Taliban campaign to enforce sharia law.

Like Swat, it is part of Malakand, where President Asif Ali Zardari has authorised an agreement with the Taliban that saw them promise to lay down their arms in exchange for sharia courts.

Pakistan has come under Western and domestic pressure to rescind the deal and the government in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) accused the Taliban of violating the agreement by advancing on another Malakand district -- Buner.

Scores of fighters had moved into Buner, which lies just 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the capital Islamabad, and were reported to be occupying mosques and manning checkpoints.

However, on Saturday, a spokesman for the group said they had pulled back in a bid to shore up the peace deal, although local Taliban remained in the area.

Neither did the Taliban show any sign of disarming.

"We will not exhibit arms as part of the deal. But our government should stop its policy of appeasing the US," Muslim Khan, the main Taliban spokesman in the area warned.

In Buner itself, fear and uncertainty reigned despite the apparent withdrawal.

"I have resigned. I will never go to my job as I don't want my parents to be sent my body," said Hafsa, a woman charity worker who used a single name.

"We used to see women going to their offices before the Taliban arrived in the area, but today they did not go to their jobs," local resident Nisar Khan told AFP by telephone from the district.

The government on Saturday deployed up to 300 extra paramilitary police to secure Buner, local police said, but army chief General Ashfaq Kayani defended a decision by the military not to intervene as "tactical," despite US pressure.

In Swat, Taliban militants continued to flex their muscle on Saturday, turning away a military convoy that had tried to get into the district's main town of Mingora, a military official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban spokesman said the convoy had been stopped because "the military men wanted to enter Mingora in violation of the Swat deal".

The United States insists that Islamist extremists, historically supported by Pakistani intelligence, pose the greatest threat to the country. Pakistan's powerful military has traditionally seen India in this role.

David Petraeus, the US commander for southwest Asia, warned that the banned Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India blamed for last year's Mumbai attacks, were plotting to further destabilise the region through violence.

"We think they're trying to do more damage and they're trying to carry out additional attacks," Petraeus told US lawmakers on Friday.

Extremist attacks linked to Taliban and Al-Qaeda-associated militants have killed more than 1,800 people across Pakistan since July 2007.

"I think whenever there is slightest chance of coming back, they (the Taliban) will again try and challenge the state," warned analyst A.H.Nayyar.

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