Thousands have taken to the streets of northwest Pakistan to protest the deaths of 18 people they say were killed in overnight raids.

The bodies of the victims, from the Bara tribal area, were placed outside the governor's house in Peshawar by the 3,000 people gathered outside. The tribemen say the dead were killed in a raid by Pakistani security forces in the Khyber agency.

Shabir Ahmed, a soldier from the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary, said his four brothers and father were present at their home when uniformed gunmen stormed his house, opened fire and killed them.

"I want to know who killed my brothers and father and why," he said.

'Don't kill us'

Utilising a strategy similar to the Hazara community of the southwestern city of Quetta, the bodies of the villagers killed in Peshawar were displayed wrapped in blankets and laid out on the street outside the governor's house.

Al Jazeera interviews Pakistan's foreign minister on recent developments

The government blames local armed groups for the late Tuesday night deaths. Though uncommon, armed groups have disguised themselves in military uniforms in the past.

Signs in Urdu read: "We are also Pakistanis. Don't kill us," as demonstrators shouted anti-military slogans and called on the military to end its operations in the Bara area where the shooting occurred.

Islamabad has been waging a campaign against armed groups in the tribal region, but human rights groups and residents say the operations often involve abuse and end in civilian casualties.

In a December report, Amnesty International accused the Pakistani military of regularly holding people without charges and torturing or otherwise mistreating them in custody.

The London-based group said in the report that some detainees do not survive and are returned to their families dead, or
their corpses are dumped in remote areas.

The Pakistani military rejected Amnesty's allegations as "a pack of lies."

Source: Agencies