19 killed in fresh violence in north-west Pakistan
At least 19 people were killed and more than a dozen injured in fresh clashes in militant-dominated north-west Pakistan, media reports said on Tuesday.
Fierce fighting erupted between troops loyal to top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and pro-government tribesmen Monday when militants attacked the members of a peace committee in the town Jandola, the gateway to the restive South Waziristan tribal district, reported dpa.
Up to 12 people were killed and 10 others were wounded in ensuing gun battles that continued during the night, the English-language DawnNews television channel reported.
Both sides used heavy weapons and rocket-propelled grenades to take out each other's targets.
Mehsud's men reportedly took over Jandola and also kidnapped 15 members of the government-backed peace committee, which was working to drive out pro-Taliban elements from the main towns of the region.
A lull in the fighting was observed Tuesday morning when government security forces moved into Jandola to carry out a clean-up operation.
Mehsud, the key Taliban commander in Pakistan's tribal belt, has been blamed for dozens of suicide attacks over the last 15 months, including the one in December which killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
He, however, ordered his followers to halt raids on security forces in March when Pakistan's new government offered peace talks. But the fragile ceasefire did not succeed in putting an end to violence in the region.
Separately, one militant was killed and three were injured when security forces retaliated against an attack on a military convoy in the Sambat area of the Swat district early Tuesday morning.
The security personnel suffered no casualties in the ambush, officials speaking on condition of anonymity said.
A curfew has been declared in the area for an indefinite period.
Swat, which used to be a tourist haven until early last year, was engulfed by violence after supporters of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah tried to enforce Taliban-style laws and established a parallel Islamic judicial system.
The military launched a full-scale operation against the militants in October, sparking a violent conflict that killed hundreds of people, including army troops.
The battles subsided in March when the government initiated negotiations with militants and finally brokered a controversial peace deal on May 21, partially withdrawing troops from Swat on assurances of renunciation of violence.
But militants continued occasional attacks on security personnel during the past three months, claiming these were the result of violations of the truce by government forces.
The shaky accord also worried western powers, who opposed the move saying it would encourage the militants to regroup and strengthen their ranks.
Meanwhile, six bodies of men believed to be involved in criminal activities were found near a market in Ghaljo area of the Orakzai tribal district, officials said.
"Pro-Tabilan militants had kidnapped the six men last month as part of their anti-vice campaign," an official in the local administration said. All the victims were shot dead.