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28 peace brokers killed in Pak's tribal area

The bodies of 28 tribesmen, who formed part of a 30-man peace committee, were recovered earlier on Wednesday morning.

world Updated: Jun 25, 2008 23:00 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

Fighting intensified on Wednesday in and around Jandola village, which is known as the gateway to the troubled South Waziristan area of Pakistan, as government forces started to enter the conflict zone in a bid to back tribesmen fighting against Taliban-backed militants.

The bodies of 28 tribesmen, who formed part of a 30-man peace committee, were recovered earlier on Wednesday morning. The men, who had been sent to try and engage the militants in dialogue, had all been shot dead. Their death spread a wave of panic in many parts of the troubled North West Frontier Province (NWFP). “It was a lesson to others not to side with the government,” a local journalist commented.

“Some have bullet wounds but there were some who were killed with knives,” Barkatullah Marvat, the top government official in the region, told Reuters.

Rehman Malik, de-facto interior minister, warned that a full scale military operation against the militants would start later this week as peace talks had broken down. However, there are many who question the ability of the military of taking on the militants in the tribal areas.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was given a briefing by top military commanders on how to take on the militant forces.

Local commanders and politicians said the recent successes by militants in the past week had emboldened them and they were now preparing for an offensive on Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province.

The Gilani government has come under increased criticism for its inability to handle the operation against militants in the tribal areas. With the change in government, President Musharraf has taken a back seat and has handed over decisions on the operation in the tribal areas to the political government.

The NWFP government, which is headed by the nationalist Awami National Party, had earlier engaged in talks with the militants and the warring tribes in a bid to arrive at a political understanding. These moves were severely criticised by the US administration, which said that it would only allow militants to re-group and gain strength.

Local officials said that the action by the militants in the NWFP could be linked with to fighting in Afghanistan as well.

“Some of these militants have crossed the border and entered Pakistan as action against them in Afghanistan is intensifying,” said Ahmad Shah, a local administration official. On Tuesday, the Afghan government warned Pakistan to stop militants from crossing over.