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Pakistan troops kill 20 militants: official

world Updated: Jul 30, 2008 13:52 IST
AFP
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Pakistani troops on Wednesday killed 20 Taliban militants in the northwestern Swat valley, further undermining a two-month-old peace deal in the scenic region, officials said.

A five-hour gunbattle erupted after fighters loyal to pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah attacked a checkpost in the town of Sarbanda, Major Mohammad Farooq said.

The clash came a day after rebels kidnapped 30 security officials in Swat, which until last year was a thriving tourist resort known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan" for its snow-clad peaks.

"The fighting which broke out early on Wednesday morning lasted four to five hours after which the militants fled, leaving behind 20 dead," Farooq said, adding that many rebels were wounded.

There were no casualties to Pakistani troops, he said.

Farooq said soldiers also flushed out militants from the main police station in Swat's Matta district after pounding their positions in heavy shelling overnight.

The police station was seized by militants recently, he said.

In a separate incident, militants doused a girls' school with petrol in Swat and burned it to the ground, officials said.

They also blew up a hostel in Pakistan's only ski resort at Malam Jabba, near Swat, which had been damaged in an earlier attack in June, the officials added.

Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for comment, but they have previously threatened to launch suicide attacks in retaliation if the army restarts operations in Swat.

The government signed a peace deal with the Swat militants in May and agreed to gradually pull out troops and introduce an Islamic justice system. In exchange, the rebels said they would halt attacks and surrender arms.

The region was wracked by fighting in late 2007 and early 2008 as Fazlullah led a campaign, backed by suicide bombers, to enforce harsh Sharia law in the scenic region.

But violence has erupted again in the area in recent weeks, adding to US concerns about Islamabad's efforts to negotiate with hardliners based near the Afghan border.

On Tuesday two troops and two militants were killed in fighting in Swat, with another 14 soldiers wounded, while Taliban rebels shot dead three intelligence officials on Monday.

Troops were still searching for the 30 police and paramilitary troops abducted by militants from a checkpost on Tuesday.

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