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Taliban release five soldiers in Pakistan: official

Taliban militants released five Pakistani soldiers kidnapped seven months ago in a troubled tribal region as five rebels were killed in fresh clashes with troops, an official said on Monday.

world Updated: Mar 09, 2009 14:21 IST

Taliban militants released five Pakistani soldiers kidnapped seven months ago in a troubled tribal region as five rebels were killed in fresh clashes with troops, an official said on Monday.

The Islamists released the paramilitary soldiers in Mamoun, 22 kilometres (13 miles) north of Khar, the main town of the semi-autonomous Bajaur region, and handed them over to tribal elders late on Sunday.

"Militants unconditionally freed the five soldiers who will be handed over to the local administration," a senior local official, Faramosh Khan, told AFP.

He said the soldiers had been kidnapped from Loisam in August, when Pakistan launched a massive military operation in Bajaur trying to flush militant bases out of the mountainous region near the Afghan border.

Pakistani troops are still clashing with militants in Bajaur, where five militants were killed in clashes with paramilitaries and local tribesmen in Nawagai, 30 kilometres northwest of Khar, late on Sunday.

"Militants attacked a camp of paramilitary soldiers and were repulsed," another local official said.

"Backed by local tribesmen, the troops returned the fire, killing five militants," the official added.

The military said last month it had effectively won the battle against the Taliban in remote Bajaur after a six-month fight.

Pakistan's civilian government launched the offensive, largely in response to US pressure to do more to stop militants attacking foreign troops in Afghanistan from safe havens over the border.

Residents say reconstruction and basic services such as water and electricity are desperately important if families are to return to Bajaur.

The seven semi-autonomous tribal areas in northwest Pakistan became a stronghold for hundreds of extremists who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.