Pakistan: at least 10 die in militant clashes
By RIAZ KHAN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Jul 19, 3:26 AM ET
At least 10 Taliban have died in fierce fighting between two rival militant groups in northwestern Pakistan, a government official and Taliban spokesman said Saturday.
Hundreds of supporters of the top Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud clashed Friday with a breakaway faction of the group in Mohmand tribal region, said local administrator Syed Ali.
He said both sides used rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons in the fighting, which lasted for several hours. Between 10 and 15 men died, he said.
A spokesman for Mehsud’s group, who identified himself as Dr Asad, claimed they killed 15 militants of the rival group and captured 120 others, including their top commander Shah Khalid, and would try them under Islamic laws.
Asad claimed that Khalid was receiving support from the government.
Ali refused to comment on that claim, and no representative of Khalid’s group could immediately be reached to verify it.
Mehsud is the leader of a militant umbrella group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and he has been accused in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, which he denies. His supporters are believed responsible for numerous bomb blasts and attacks on security forces in the country’s tribal regions and other areas over the past year.
The government led by Bhutto’s party — installed after winning Feb. 18 elections — has encouraged peace talks involving Mehsud group and other militant outfits, which has quelled violence.
But Mehsud this week blamed the provincial government in Pakistan’s northwest for recent military operations against militants and threatened to attack it unless it quit by Tuesday. The provincial government has rejected the demand, saying it only called in troops after Mehsud’s men killed 17 Pakistani soldiers near the town of Zargari last week.
Western officials are concerned that the easing of Pakistani military pressure on militants has given Taliban and al-Qaida more freedom to operate in Pakistan’s tribal regions. The U.S. military has reported a spike in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.