Government troops clear rebel stronghold in Pakistan

June 29th, 2008 - 5:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, June 29 (DPA) Pakistani security forces Sunday gained more ground in Khyber tribal district of northwest Pakistan during an offensive against insurgents threatening key towns and the main supply route serving the NATO forces in Afghanistan. Troops in armoured personnel carriers and tanks began the assault Saturday from Bara town, about five kilometre from the North-West Frontier Province’s capital Peshawar, after rebel activity jeopardized peace talks with the government.

Soldiers from Frontier Corps (FC) paramilitary forces Sunday blew up several offices of a pro-Taliban religious group Ansar-ul-Islam in Bara’s Shalobar village.

“The FC did not face any resistance as the compound had already been abandoned by the miscreants,” a senior security officer told DPA.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the insurgents had already pulled back to areas close to the Afghan border.

One rebel was reported killed in the offensive.

Major-General Alam Khattak said the operation was likely to continue for at least four days but could be extended if needed to eliminate militants from the area.

Troops regained control over Bara town by Sunday, and put in place a curfew with paratroopers conducting regular patrols.

Soldiers also demolished buildings used by supporters of another militant commander and chief of the Lashkar-i-Islam religious organization, Mangal Bagh.

Armed men from Bagh’s group had regularly been forcing people in the region to observe puritanical Islamic laws as defined by them.

Tension mounted after the rebels threatened barbers and owners of music and video shops in Peshawar to stop their trades, which the group believes un-Islamic.

The government had been showing restraint because of ongoing peace talks, which it started after coming into power in March.

But the shaky peace initiatives caused concerns among the partners in the US-led war on Islamic extremists. Pakistan’s allies believe the controversial agreements would allow the pro-Taliban fighters to launch cross-border attacks on international forces and the Afghan national army.

Following the operation in Bara, top Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud suspended negotiations with the government until it stops using military means against his comrades.

He warned that backlash from the militants could sweep the country.

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