Residents of Pakistani villages pounded by artillery and warplanes in fighting


By BASHIRULLAH KHAN, AP

MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan — Residents of Pakistani villages pounded by artillery and warplanes in fighting that has killed up to 250 people secured an army pledge to hold fire while they buried their dead Wednesday, a resident said.

The clashes between troops and militants in the North Waziristan region near the Afghan border are the deadliest since Pakistan threw its support behind the U.S.-led war on terror in 2001.

While residents reported a burst of shelling before dawn Wednesday, there was no repeat of the fierce clashes that began Saturday and have sent thousands fleeing for safety.

Ten residents went to the army base in Miran Shah, the region’s main town, to ask for some relief, said Hafiz Muhammad Wali, a school teacher who led the group.

Military officials “assured us that just for today there would be no action so that the funerals of the locals could be held and the injured treated,” Wali told The Associated Press.

He said he was told to announce the pause in hostilities in the nearby town of Mir Ali, where the fighting has been concentrated.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad confirmed the talks, but provided few details.

“There is no cease-fire, but currently there is also nothing untoward happening either,” Arshad said.

On Tuesday, residents said Pakistani aircraft bombed Epi, a village near Mir Ali, killing dozens of militants and civilians and injuring many more, including shoppers in a packed bazaar. The army said the planes were targeting militant hideouts and that local tribesmen reported about 50 militants were killed. Arshad said on Tuesday that the airstrikes might have killed some civilians, but he had no exact numbers.

Residents said several dozens funerals were to be held in Epi on Wednesday.

The army has reported the deaths of up to 200 militants and 47 troops, and that scores more had been hurt.

Farid Ullah, a resident of Mir Ali, said some 10,000 people from the area had abandoned their homes and, with the army blocking the roads, walked through the mountains to safer towns.

He said 60 of his relatives were among them, but that he was staying behind along with his aging mother.

The violence comes as Musharraf tries to secure another term as president, vowing to shore up Pakistan’s effort against religious extremists, who are trying to impose a harsh version of Islamic law in the northwest.

A bomb destroyed ten shops selling music discs – frowned on by fundamentalists – in the town of Kohat before dawn on Wednesday, police said. No one was hurt. A similar attack in the city of Peshawar on Tuesday wounded a dozen people.

Pakistan struck a controversial cease-fire deal with militants in North Waziristan last year. U.S. officials criticized the pact, claiming it provided a safe haven for al-Qaida and a rear base for Taliban guerrillas fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan.