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Central & South Asia
Pakistan says Swat fighters killed
Claim of success follows rescue of a group of 80 students and teachers in the tribal belt.
Last Modified: 02 Jun 2009 17:37 GMT

The military said troops rescued students seized by the Taliban in the northwest on Monday [EPA]

The Pakistani military says it has killed 21 opposition fighters in operations to remove Taliban presence from the country's northwest.

A military statement on Tuesday acknowledged the loss of three soldiers in the fighting, which occurred in the Swat valley in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

"In the last 24 hours, 21 miscreants-terrorists were killed and 18 apprehended in various areas of Swat, whereas three soldiers embraced shahadat [martyrdom]," the statement said.

The majority of the fighters were killed near Charbagh, a Taliban stronghold about 20km from Mingora, the main city in Swat.

The military says troops have cleared Mingora of Taliban since the beginning of their five-week offensive.

"Security forces have successfully secured Alam Gunj, Waliabad and Gulibagh [north of Charbagh]. Fourteen miscreants-terrorists were killed and 18 apprehended in Charbagh and Alam Gunj areas," the statement said.

Student rescue

In another development in the country's northwest, the military reportedly rescued 80 students and teachers taken captive by fighters in an area populated by pro-Taliban tribesmen.

Troops launched a pre-dawn raid on Tuesday to end the hostage crisis, military and government officials said.

In depth


Videos:
 
Frontier police battle Pakistani Taliban
 Exclusive: Swat exodus continues
 Swat's fleeing Sikhs
 Inside war-torn Mingora city

Pictures:
 
Refuge for Swat's Sikhs
 Lahore bombing

 Diary: Imran Khan
 Riz Khan: Obama's 'AfPak' strategy
 Riz Khan: The battle for the soul of Pakistan
 Interview: Asif Ali Zardari
 Q&A: The struggle for Swat
 Your views: Crisis in Swat

Focus:
 The fight for northwest Pakistan
Talking to the Taliban
Pakistan's war
 Witness: Pakistan in crisis

Major-General Athar Abbas said that 80 people, 71 of them students, were recovered by forces in the Goryam area as their convoy of vehicles was heading towards South Waziristan.

The release of the hostages was confirmed by Sardar Abbas Rind, chief of the administration in the town of Bannu.

Earlier, officials had said police were negotiating with the Taliban via tribal elders for the captives.

Taliban fighters seized the students' convoy on Monday near the town of Bakka Khel, abducting students and staff from four vehicles of the convoy, made up of about 27 vehicles.

The students from from the military-run Razmak Cadet College in North Waziristan were heading home for the summer holiday.

"Kidnappings and abductions have become a norm for the militants who have been operating in that area," Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said.

"They use the money to fund their militancy and purchase weapons."

The college is an army-run educational institution for civilians, with students who are reportedly aged between 15 and 25 years and were not training for the army, but were following a secular curriculum.

Javed Alam, a vice-principal, said the convoy was carrying that more than 300 students and about 30 staff members and employees of the college when they were stopped.

String of incidents

The abduction was part of a string of incidents in the tribal belt, some of which the army says is aimed at distracting it from its offensive against Taliban fighters in the adjoining NWFP.

The Pakistani army launched its offensive against Taliban fighters in Swat and surrounding districts after they violated the terms of a ceasefire.

There are several Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked groups based in North and South Waziristan, in loose alliance with the Taliban in Swat.

South Waziristan is also thought to be the base of Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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