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Central & South Asia
Pakistan militia 'battles Taliban'
Tribal fighters kill 23 Taliban in northwestern Mohmand district, officials say.
Last Modified: 15 Jul 2009 07:21 GMT
Pakistan's government has encouraged tribal villagers to organise into militias to fight the Taliban [EPA]

Members of a pro-government tribal militia have killed at least 23 Taliban fighters in clashes in Pakistan's northwest, local government officials have said.

The fighting began late Monday in the village of Anbar in Pakistan's Mohmand region along the border with Afghanistan.

Syed Ahmad Jan, a senior regional administrator, said local villagers demanded Taliban fighters leave the area, but the Taliban refused and opened fire, sparking a gun battle that continued into Tuesday morning.

At least four tribal militiamen were reported to have been wounded in the fighting.

Mohammad Rasul Khan, a local official, said three villagers were missing after the clashes between the 150-strong village force and Taliban fighters.

Pakistan's government has been encouraging villagers in the country's northwestern tribal regions to form local militias, known as lashkars, to help push Taliban fighters out of their areas.

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The clashes came as thousands of people displaced by a military offensive in the North West Frontier Province returned to their homes as part of a government-organised repatriation programme.

Pakistan says that more than 1,700 Taliban fighters were killed as the military largely cleared the Swat valley and its surrounding areas of the group.

But many analysts say they suspect the Taliban have simply moved to other areas in the northwest, increasing security concerns across the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

In the nearby Khyber region on Tuesday, suspected pro-Taliban fighters opened fire on an oil tanker carrying fuel to NATO forces in Afghanistan, but fled a security forces accompanying the vehicle returned fire.

"Militants first fired a mortar on the oil tanker and then set it on fire. Meanwhile a gunfight broke out with paramilitary troops which left two civilians dead and three others wounded," Rehan Gul Khattak, a local official, said.

Umar Farooq, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban in Khyber, told the AFP news agency that the group's fighters had staged the ambush.

"We will target all those who continue," he said.

The Pakistani military is preparing for an operation against suspected Taliban positions in South Waziristan, also in the northwest of the country.

Pakistani jets pounded several locations along the border with Afghanistan on Sunday, as part of an ongoing military assault targeting Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban.

Source:
Agencies
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