13 civilians killed as Pakistan battles militants (Lead)

July 31st, 2008 - 9:50 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Taliban
Peshawar (Pakistan), July 31 (DPA) At least 13 civilians, including seven from one family, were killed Thursday in fresh clashes between government forces and Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, officials said. A stray mortar round hit a house in the Deolai area of Swat, killing five children and their parents, as the rebels and soldiers exchanged fire overnight with heavy weapons, a local police official said, declining to be named.

It was not clear whether militants or security forces had fired the shell that turned the house into rubble.

However, an army spokesman in Swat Valley denied the incident.

“There has been complete peace today and we have no information of any damage,” Major Farooq Virk told DPA.

Two more people were killed in the same area when their house was also hit by a shell, while two died in the neighbouring Matta sub-district. The body of an unknown person was also found near a police station in Kabal area, while the extremists blew up three girls’ schools in various parts of Swat.

More than two dozens people were also injured in the skirmishes that started Wednesday when dozens of militants targeted government troops in the Ucharai Sar area, leaving 25 militants and five soldiers dead after several hours of battle.

On Tuesday, some 200 rebels seized up to 30 police and paramilitary troops manning a security checkpost in the town of Kabal.

Violence has put a two-month peace agreement in Swat, formerly a popular tourist destination, in limbo.

Tensions rose in the scenic valley, located about 300 km northwest of Islamabad, when the military launched a crackdown on the supporters of a radical cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, after he began a campaign to impose Taliban rule in Swat.

The operation continued until March when the new government initiated peace talks with the guerrillas and reached a fragile ceasefire with them in May.

But the militants kept carrying out sporadic attacks on security forces while accusing the authorities for violating the accord.

An indefinite curfew was imposed in Swat after Wednesday clashes but authorities announced a two-hour break to allow locals to buy groceries and food items.

Several families left the area for safer places amid fears of more fierce clashes between the soldiers and Fazullah’s men in the Kabal area, where the militants had blocked the roads and blown up a bridge, getting ready for a major security offensive.

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