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Tribal chief seeks ceasefire in Waziristan

A tribal chief has appealed for a ceasefire between tribal militants and security forces, after days of clashes in the northwestern region.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2006 15:22 IST

A prominent tribal chief on Wednesday appealed for a ceasefire between tribal militants and security forces, after days of fighting in a northwestern region near the Afghan border believed to have killed more than 100 pro-Taliban fighters.

Heavy clashes have subsided, but on Tuesday, militants ambushed the convoy of the top administrator of the restive North Waziristan tribal region, and shot dead one of his bodyguards.

Security forces returned fire and killed four attackers, said the administrator, Syed Zaheerul Islam.

Dozens of residents of Naurak, a village near the scene of the attack on Islam, were fleeing on Wednesday, fearing fighting between troops and militants, an Associated Press reporter saw.

Artillery shells fired by security forces in the direction from which Islam's convoy was attacked hit five empty homes and a gasoline station under construction in the village, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to media. No one was reported hurt.

In a statement on Wednesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch appealed to both Pakistan's government and Taliban militants to ensure "that civilians are not deliberately targeted and that necessary precautions are taken to avoid civilian casualties."

Thousands of residents have been displaced by the recent fighting, mostly centered in the region's main town of Miran Shah, which remained under curfew on Wednesday.

A dozen tribal elders on Tuesday held talks with Khalilur Rahman, governor of North West Frontier Province where North Waziristan is located.

One of the elders, Malik Khalid Khan Wazir, called for a halt in the fighting to allow tribal chiefs to negotiate peace.

"Tribal elders should be given a chance to try to resolve the issue instead of the use of force," Wazir, from Shawal area in North Waziristan, said on Wednesday.

The elders were to travel later Wednesday to the capital Islamabad for talks with President Gen Pervez Musharraf. The conflict in North Waziristan flared after an army strike on a suspected militant hide out last week in which officials said that 45 people died, including foreign militants.

But local pro-Taliban tribesmen say the attack killed civilians and responded by attacking security forces and taking over government buildings in Miran Shah.

The fighting marks a dangerous turn in Pakistan's efforts to crack down on Islamic militants along the Afghan border, where fighters of Al-Qaeda and the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan are believed to seek sanctuary with sympathetic local tribesmen. It's the first time in two years of operations that serious fighting has spread from remote villages to towns.

Pakistan's army has estimated that more than 100 militants and six security forces have died in the fighting since Saturday, but has yet to give an exact count.

First Published: Mar 08, 2006 15:22 IST