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Fourteen Taliban killed in northwest Pakistan

world Updated: Jun 21, 2009 18:08 IST

At least 14 Taliban militants were killed in separate battles with local vigilantes and Pakistani troops in the northwest of the country, the police and military said on Sunday.

A group of rebels fleeing towards northwestern Chitral district was intercepted by local vigilantes in the village of Patrak in Upper Dir district after which intense gunfight broke out, police chief Ejaz Ahmed told AFP.

"Seven militants were killed in the fighting," he said, adding that police had blocked possible escape routes out of the area to try and catch the fleeing insurgents.

It is the second reported incident of locals turning against rebels in Upper Dir this month.

Upper Dir is near three northwest districts hit by the Pakistani military offensive aimed at crushing rebel fighters after they flouted a peace deal and thrust towards the capital Islamabad.

Separately, the military said that after "intense engagement" it had killed seven militants and arrested 16 others in Malakand, which includes Upper and Lower Dir, Buner and Swat districts.

"During (the) last 24 hours, seven terrorists were killed and 16 were apprehended, while five soldiers were injured in Malakand," it said in a statement.

The military's offensive has the backing of the United States and enjoys broad popular support among Pakistanis exasperated by worsening Taliban-linked attacks, which have killed more than 1,960 people in the nuclear-armed country since July 2007.

Officials have said up to 1,000 Upper Dir villagers earlier this month formed a vigilante mob and stormed three villages where suspected Taliban were hiding out.

They killed six of them to avenge the bombing of a mosque in the village of Hayagai Sharqai in which 38 people died on June 5.

The military is now preparing to target the militant network led by Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan tribal district.

Troops were busy clearing a key road in the area, it said.

"Terrorists had blocked the road between Tanai to Sarwaki in South Waziristan. An operation to open the road has been launched which is still in progress," it said.

The rugged South Warizistan region is the stronghold of Mehsud, and Washington alleges that Al-Qaeda fighters who fled Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion are holed up there.

Pakistani war planes Sunday hit targets there, apparently in preparation for a full-scale military onslaught on Mehsud and his network, local security officials said.