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60 killed as militants capture Pakistan border fort

world Updated: Jan 16, 2008 19:08 IST

Over 60 people, including seven paramilitary troopers, were killed on Wednesday in a fierce battle as more than 400 militants seized a strategic Pakistani military base on the border with Afghanistan.

The fighting started after heavily armed pro-Taliban guerrillas attacked the Frontier Corps station in an old fort in Sararogha town of South Waziristan, the stronghold of Al-Qaeda allied Baitullah Mehsud, the man the government has blamed for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

"Around 400 militants attacked the Frontier Corps (FC) at Sararogha and captured the fort. We are reviewing the situation," Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Maj Gen Athar Abbas told IANS.

Confirming that seven security personnel died in the clashes, he said: "There are reports of 40 to 50 dead miscreants." However, he denied reports that more than 20 soldiers from the FC were missing as was reported.

An official source from South Waziristan said that hundreds of tribesmen attacked the fort around midnight on Tuesday by blowing up the eastern wall and entered it.

"There was fierce fighting and more than 100 people are feared dead with heavy losses to the FC," said the source, requesting anonymity.

He said that many soldiers escaped from the fort while the tribesmen took hostage several others. "It is not clear whether the tribesmen are backed by Baitullah (Mehsud) or some other (militant) organization," the source said, adding the Taliban are also active in the area.

Meanwhile, Xinhua said the reports from the region quoted local officials as saying that Pakistani Taliban militants have killed around 30 soldiers. But the army did not confirm.

The officials were quoted as saying that militants used rockets and automatic weapons in the attack on the fort from nearby mountains. They said that security forces also launched counter attack and used artillery and mortars.

Locals said that they heard exchange of fire for around four hours but later the forces stopped firing and Taliban entered the fort and also shifted weapons from there.

The South Waziristan, one of the eight tribal districts, is facing unrest since the US-led war on terror started early 2002. Hundreds of civilians have been killed while many have moved out of the area to safer places.

However, the Taliban and groups of tribal warlord continue to dominate the area with attacks on military and paramilitary troops. The unrest heightened after President Pervez Musharraf ordered capture of Lal Masjid in the heart of Islamabad that was occupied by militants who challenged the government's writ and demanded enforcement of Islamic laws. More than 250 people were killed in the attack on the mosque last year.

Last week, the military said it repulsed a further attack in South Waziristan involving around 300 militants, killing around 50 of them.