/ 26 April 2009

Weekend blasts kill 16 children in Pakistan

Four children and their parents were killed in a grenade blast in Pakistan’s restive north-west on Sunday, a day after 12 children were killed by a bomb hidden in a football.

Violence has increased in the region as Taliban fighters have extended their reach. Western allies, needing Pakistan’s help to defeat al-Qaeda and stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan, fear the country is in danger of sliding into chaos.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry chief, Rehman Malik, blamed the Taliban for Saturday’s football bomb.

”The Taliban have exposed their real face by killing innocent children,” Malik said.

Authorities were unsure who to blame for Sunday’s grenade attack as they were uncertain whether the parents were carrying the grenade, or if it was planted in the car they were travelling in with their eight children.

The grenade exploded in the car near Datta Kheil, a district in the North Waziristan tribal region, near the Afghan border.

”The parents and four of their children died instantly and their bodies were brought to hospital,” Mirbad Khan, a hospital official in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, said. ”Four other children were wounded.”

North Waziristan is a known sanctuary for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

The football bomb attack that killed 12 children occurred 260km further to the north-east, at a village in the mountains of Lower Dir.

The children, five of them girls, found the ball as they were returning from school. Seven victims belonged to the same family.

Malik said investigators would check whether the children were targeted because their families had refused to let the Taliban take them for training, including as suicide attackers.

He also appealed to parents across North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to stop children accepting food or toys from strangers.

Dir is part of the Malakand division of NWFP, where President Asif Ali Zardari this month sanctioned the imposition of Islamic law under a controversial deal aimed at ending conflict with Taliban militants in Swat valley.

But just days after Zardari’s move, fighters in Swat intruded into neighbouring parts of Malakand, closer to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Western governments have criticised Pakistan for cutting deals, saying the strategy will encourage militants.

Pakistani officials say they are trying to use political means to reduce the violence, but signs are emerging that the government is preparing to unleash the military. – Reuters