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Pak shells militant hideouts after sectarian unrest

world Updated: Jan 11, 2009 19:20 IST
Pakistan shells militant hideouts after sectarian unrest

Pakistani helicopter gunships Sunday shelled radical Muslim militant hideouts in the remote northwest, where nine people were killed in weekend sectarian clashes, a local official said.

The violence broke out between rival Shiite and Sunni Muslim groups on Friday and continued into Saturday in the town of Hangu, local district official Mujibur Rehman told AFP.

Mountainous Hangu, near the Afghan border, has been a hotbed of sectarian violence that has claimed dozens of lives in the past two years.

"We targeted the hideouts of miscreants with helicopter gunships," Rehman told AFP, without giving any details about the results of the operation.

"The troublemakers have set up bunkers on hilltops and in some houses, and were firing on each other to trigger sectarian violence," he added.

Rehman said nine people had been killed and more than 20 wounded including six policemen in the weekend clashes.

"We are nearing a peace agreement in the area," he said.

"Rival groups are consulting their leaders -- after that, we hope a ceasefire will come into effect."

Shiites account for about 20 percent of Pakistan's 160 million-strong, Sunni-majority population.

The groups usually coexist peacefully but outbreaks of sectarian violence have claimed more than 4,000 lives across Pakistan since the late 1980s.