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18 militants arrested in Khyber operation

world Updated: Jul 02, 2008 12:11 IST

Pakistani security forces destroyed two major militant sites and arrested 18 resisting insurgents as part of an operation in the troubled Khyber tribal region that entered its fifth day Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said.

Separately, 46 alleged criminals were detained in raids in Peshawar, a major northwest city whose safety was one reason the government launched the military operation, the ministry said. The militants were captured Tuesday at the home of hard-line cleric Mufti Munir Shakir. They skirmished with paramilitary forces, who destroyed Shakir's home. Also destroyed was the residence of a rival cleric, Pir Saifur Rehman, according to a ministry statement issued late Tuesday.

Supporters of the two clerics have clashed in recent years, adding to the volatility in the semi-autonomous tribal regions, which are considered havens for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters who stage cross-border attacks in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan launched the offensive over the weekend after militant activity in the tribal areas began to threaten Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, as well as a key supply line for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The paramilitary forces have encountered relatively little resistance overall.

In a separate statement, the ministry and local political administrators said recent police raids led to arrests of 46 alleged criminals in Peshawar. Arms and drugs also were recovered. The government said the "basic purpose of restoring normalcy and law and order has been achieved with minimum damage and without collateral losses."

So far during the military operation in Khyber, authorities say forces have destroyed several militant centers, including a radio station, and recovered some men kidnapped by militants and criminals for ransom.

Although Pakistan has previously launched operations against militants in the troubled North and South Waziristan tribal areas, the offensive in Khyber is the first since parties opposed to President Pervez Musharraf came to power after February elections. The new government has sought to reduce violence through peace deals with militants, raising concerns in the US that negotiations would give room and time for extremist fighters to regroup and intensify attacks in Afghanistan.

The government has not backed off of its plans to negotiate peace, but said it had to take military action because of the threats to Peshawar.

Still, Taliban leaders have vowed revenge over the offensive, and Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan's top Taliban commander, has suspended peace talks between his allies and the government.