Up to 30 people dead in Pakistan clash

WANA, Pakistan, Reuters

Up to 30 people, at least half of them foreign al-Qaida-linked militants, have been killed in two days of fighting with Pakistani tribesmen near the Afghan border, a military spokesman said on Tuesday.

A battle between foreign militants, most of them Uzbeks, and the area’s ethnic Pashtun tribesmen erupted on March 6. It followed Pakistani government efforts to convince the tribesmen to help keep order and stop militant raids into Afghanistan.

The latest fighting broke out on Monday in Shin Warsak village, 7 km (4 miles) west of Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan region.

“The number of casualties is rising and we have reports of 25 to 30 dead,” said Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad.

He said 15 to 20 of the dead were foreign militants and most were believed to be Uzbeks. About 30 people were wounded.

Government security forces were not involved, he said.

Hundreds of foreign militants, including Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, fled to the semi autonomous tribal lands on the Pakistani side of the border after U.S.-led forces defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

Most of the Pashtun tribesmen, who inhabit both sides of the Pakistani Afghan border, gave the militants refuge despite government efforts to clear the foreigners out.

The fighting this month indicates that in at least one area, relations have broken down.

“It’s a success of the government strategy … the tribesmen are fed up with them because they and their activities adversely affect their lives and business,” Arshad said.

Among the dead were three children killed by a mortar bomb on their way home from school on Monday, a teacher said.

“The children were getting off their school bus and some had started walking home when a mortar bomb hit,” said the teacher, Noorzali. Some children were wounded, he said.

An intelligence official in Wana said the Uzbek militants had cut off a road to the west of the town and security forces would take action to clear it if they didn’t withdraw in 24 hours.

Seventeen people, most of them Uzbeks, were killed in the March 6 battle that broke out after the militants tried to kill a pro-government tribal leader.

The cause of the latest fighting was not clear, but the tribal leader and his men had been demanding that the foreign militants lay down their arms, a security official in the area said.

The militants have over the last few years killed scores of people across the region, including pro-government tribal leaders and people they accuse of spying for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.