/ 18 January 2008

Pakistani forces say up to 90 militants killed

Pakistani forces killed up to 90 militants in two battles on Friday in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, the military said.

The clashes came two days after hundreds of militants overran a paramilitary fort in another part of South Waziristan.

In one incident on Friday, government forces attacked a large number of militants who had gathered to attack another fort in the region, at Ladha, killing up to 60 of them, said military spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas.

”The miscreants, these terrorists, wanted to probably attack another fort and they were gathering there. Therefore, the security forces took action in retaliation,” Abbas said.

Security forces used artillery and mortars to attack the militants and there were no casualties on the government side, he said.

In the second incident, militants ambushed a military convoy and up to 30 of them were killed when security forces fought back, Abbas said.

”We had a convoy passing through Chaghmalai and these miscreants started firing on the convoy. The security forces retaliated and there was a firefight for an hour or two and then the security forces cleared the area,” he said.

Four members of the security forces were wounded in the second clash, he said.

Both clashes were in areas of South Waziristan where an al-Qaeda-linked militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud, operates.

The government said Mehsud was behind the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi on December 27.

Mehsud has been blamed for a string of attacks on security forces in recent months, compounding a sense of crisis in the nuclear-armed country as President Pervez Musharraf has struggled to hold power in the face of protests from opponents.

The government says the militants are intent on destabilising the country in the run-up to a February 18 general election that is meant to complete a transition to civilian rule. — Reuters