17 killed in Pakistan fighting (Lead)June 22nd, 2009 - 12:16 am ICT by IANS
Islamabad, June 21 (DPA) At least 10 civilians and seven militants were killed in airstrikes and clashes in Pakistan’s restive northwestern region, officials and residents said Sunday.
The latest deaths came as Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani repeated his promise to clear the country of extremism and terrorism.
Pakistani jets Sunday morning pounded suspected militant positions in Makeen Bazar and Shakar Kot villages of South Waziristan, a tribal district where the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Islamist extremist Taliban have sanctuaries.
“Some of the bombs hit the residential areas in both villages. At least six people died in Makeen Bazar and four in Shakar Kot. Several houses were also destroyed or damaged,” said a resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The government has not formally started a military offensive in South Waziristan. However, jets and helicopter gunships are targeting militants’ hideouts in the area.
The actions in the tribal region came as government forces are concluding operations in Swat and three other districts of adjoining North-Western Frontier Province.
The army said in a statement Sunday that seven militants were killed and 16 injured in various clashes in Swat, a scenic valley located some 140 km northwest of Islamabad.
Five soldiers were injured when the rebels fired upon an army vehicle in Khazakhela area of the district, where the offensive was launched in late April when the Taliban failed to observe a peace agreement.
Prime Minister Gilani speaking on the occasion of the 56th birth anniversary of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said “the whole nation is sending a clear message to the terrorists that they still have time to lay down their arms. Otherwise they should be prepared for horrible consequences.
“Benazir Bhutto fell victim to the menace of terrorism but refused to bow before it,” Gilani added.
Bhutto was assassinated during an election rally in December 2007 in a combined attack of fire arms and suicide bomb.
Two months later, her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) emerged as the largest party in the general elections. Gilani, also from the PPP, was elected prime minister while Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari was elected president.
The government has accused Taliban head Baitullah Mehsud of ordering Bhutto’s killing.
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