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Fresh violence leaves 79 dead in Pakistan

A suicide bomber rams an air force bus killing 8 people while troops kill up to 79 militants in the northwest.

world Updated: Nov 01, 2007 21:58 IST

At least 79 people were killed on Thursday in fresh clashes between security forces and pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan's volatile north-west valley of Swat and a suicide attack on a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bus, said officials.

A suicide bomber riding a motorbike blew himself up near the bus in the central town of Sargodha, some 175 km southwest of the Punjab province capital Lahore.

"The bus was targeted when it was carrying the PAF personnel to the air base, and this was a routine movement which takes place every morning," interior ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told DPA.

Four squadron leaders and a flying officer were among the eight air force personnel killed, while the charred remains of the suspected suicide bomber were also found at the scene.

More than 40 people, including six children travelling in a school van, were wounded in the bombing.

In another incident, up to 70 pro-Taliban militants were killed on Thursday as helicopter gunships pounded their hideouts, taking the death toll in weeklong clashes to more than 180 in Swat.

"The insurgents attacked a law enforcement agencies' post at Khwazakhela around 4:30 local time this morning and the security forces retaliated with small arms and mortar fire," military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told DPA.

The violence erupted in the scenic valley, located some 160 km from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) capital Peshawar, last Friday following the deployment of additional government troops to curb a rebellion instigated by Islamic firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

The first three days of fierce fighting left 95 people dead before the sides agreed on a temporary ceasefire, which collapsed on Wednesday, triggering a several-hours firefight that left 18 militants dead.

Fazlullah, 32, had been trying to enforce Taliban-style rule in the region for several months by setting up Islamic courts. His 400-strong Shaheen Commando Force took the task of maintaining law and order into its own hands earlier this month.

Islamic militancy in Swat and other areas of the country has spilled over into Pakistan's central towns from tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Washington has repeatedly urged Pakistan to eliminate Al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters for whom the region's rugged areas have become safe havens.

Even on Thursday, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Admiral William Fallon arrived in the garrison town of Rawalpindi to press President Pervez Musharraf to do more in the fight against terrorism.

"The CENTCOM commander undertakes such visits off and on to discuss issues of mutual interest and US troop deployment in Afghanistan," the army spokesman said.

First Published: Nov 01, 2007 09:32 IST