Pakistan tribals, militants clash, killing up to 54

TANK, Pakistan, Reuters

More than 50 people, most of them foreigners, have been killed in clashes between al-Qaida-linked militants and Pakistani tribesmen on Friday, Pakistan’s interior minister said.

Fighting in the South Waziristan tribal region broke out earlier this month between foreign fighters, most of them believed to be Uzbeks, and Pashtun tribesmen after the militants tried to kill a pro-government tribal leader. The fighting marks a breakdown in relations between the foreign militants and tribesmen who had hitherto sheltered them.

The latest clashes erupted on Wednesday after attempts to broker a truce failed. Fighting intensified on Friday.

“Around 54 people have been killed. Among them 45-46 are foreign militants,” Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao told Reuters.

Sherpao said around 177 foreign militants had been killed in clashes since last week.

Families fled their homes in Shin Warsak and other nearby villages, a few kilometers west of South Waziristan’s main town of Wana, according to witnesses.

“The situation is very bad. Both sides are using small and heavy weapons. People are fleeing,” Syed Noor, a resident of Wana, told Reuters by satellite phone.

Seven Uzbeks were killed on Thursday in a pre-dawn attack on a school the militants were using as a base, intelligence officials said.

Thousands of foreign militants, including Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, fled to Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal lands after U.S.-led forces defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.