27 militants killed in clashes in northwest Pakistan
At least 27 militants were killed in two days of clashes in restive northwestern Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, a military official told the news agency yesterday.
The clashes broke out after pro-Taliban militants kidnapped four Pakistan soldiers in the troubled South Waziristan tribal district on Tuesday, the official said.
"Five militants were killed yesterday and 22 overnight," he said.
South Waziristan is the stronghold of Baitullah Mehsud, an alleged top al-Qaeda commander who was blamed by the government for orchestrating the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto last week.
Through a spokesman, Mehsud denied any involvement in her death.
The official said that the kidnapped soldiers were delivering food rations from one post to another when militants seized them. Their fate was not immediately known.
After Pakistan forces fired at militants, five of them were killed and 20 were taken into custody, the official said.
Later a tribal peace council was convened but failed to resolve the stand-off, he said.
Both sides used heavy weaponry in tit-for-tat firing that went on through the night, resulting in the death of 22 militants with no loss of life on the army side, he said.
Pakistan's rugged tribal areas along the Afghan border are a known hub of al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who slipped into the region after the US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Pakistan has deployed 90,000 troops to hunt down militants in the region, which the Afghan government alleges is used as a base for cross-border attacks on Afghan and international troops based in Afghanistan.