14 troops killed in northwest Pakistan (Lead)

August 9th, 2008 - 9:57 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Taliban
Peshawar, Aug 9 (DPA) Fourteen security personnel were killed Saturday in two separate pro-Taliban militant attacks in northwest Pakistan, officials said. More than two dozen heavily armed insurgents attacked a police checkpoint in the Buner district of North-West Frontier Province and both sides exchanged fire for about two hours.

“One junior officer from FC (paramilitary Frontier Corps) and seven policemen have been killed in the attack,” Sher Wali Khan, an official of the Buner Police, told DPA.

The attackers came from the neighbouring Swat district, where government forces last week resumed a major operation to quell a rebellion by followers of pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

Around 150 people, including more than a dozen troops and some 30 civilians, have died in the running battles between the government and the Taliban. The military also used artillery and helicopter gunships to pound rebel positions in the mountains.

The picturesque valley of Swat was a popular tourist destination until November, when the military launched a crackdown on supporters of Fazlullah, who had begun a campaign to impose Taliban-style rule.

Hundreds of people died in the military operation, which was halted in March when Pakistan’s new government initiated peace talks with the militants and reached a peace accord in May.

But the rebels continued raids on government officials and buildings, accusing the authorities of violating the agreement.

Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesman in Swat, accepted responsibility for Saturday’s attack on security forces in Buner.

“After establishing their bases in Swat, Taliban now plan to control neighbouring Buner district. Last week militants also killed a police inspector and injured three policemen in the jurisdiction of Pir Baba police station,” said a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Actually people in Buner are not ready to provide support to Taliban for their operation. Therefore they come in groups, attack security personnel and flee back to their bases in Swat,” Amin Khan, a resident of Daggar village, told DPA.

Buner has a population of 700,000 people and is famous for the shrine of eminent Sufi saint Pir Baba in the Pashto belt of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Separately, six FC soldiers died and 15 were injured when a group of Taliban ambushed a security convoy in Bajaur tribal district, regarded as a safe haven for Al Qaeda terrorist network and Taliban elements frequently infiltrating into Afghanistan to strike coalition troops fighting the US-led war on terrorism.

“Miscreants attacked a security forces convoy Friday in Delai area while it was moving to Khar,” a statement released by the FC media centre in Peshawar said.

The security forces and insurgents engaged in an exchange of fire for several hours and the militants suffered heavy casualties, it said.

Heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban is going on in the Bajaur district since last week when the rebels surrounded an FC base in Loi Sam area. So far more than 60 people on both sides have reportedly died in the clashes.

Meanwhile, at least 16 people died in three days of sectarian clashes between rival Shia and Sunni tribesmen in the Billyamin area of Kurram Agency that borders Afghanistan, Geo news channel reported Saturday. Twenty-five people were injured.

The tribal district is currently in the grip of sectarian violence. More than 200 people have died in the fighting that started in late June.

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