ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Opposition politicians walked out of the Senate on Sunday to protest the shooting deaths of 13 people by security forces in a remote tribal region of Pakistan, scene of a recent military operation to capture Al Qaeda suspects.
Troops fired on a minibus that failed to stop Saturday at a roadblock in tribal South Waziristan (search). The shooting outraged residents of the semiautonomous region.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) said the government would pay $1,750 in compensation to the families of those killed and half that for the injured, an indication the government acknowledged the victims were innocent civilians.
Eleven people died at the scene, and two died of their injuries late Saturday, officials said. Two other people were injured. According to residents, some of the dead were Afghan refugees.
"Either it was an error of judgment or a planned act and there was no justification for it," Sen. Khursheed Ahmed of the hardline Islamic coalition Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal said after walking out of the Senate with a dozen other lawmakers. "They were not terrorists. They were civilian people."
Army spokesman Gen. Shaukat Sultan said shortly after the incident that troops only shot back after being fired on from within the minibus, a claim denied by residents and politicians.
Pakistan's military conducted a counterterrorism operation last week near South Waziristan's main town of Wana, the fourth in the past two years. The rugged area near the border with Afghanistan is a possible hiding place of Usama bin Laden (search), but none of the 25 arrested suspects were believed to be senior Al Qaeda figures.
On Sunday, attackers fired two rockets at a military checkpoint in a village near Wana, hitting a hillside near the post in Sholam village, said Mohammed Azam Khan, a senior official in Wana, about 15 miles east of the village. No injuries were reported.
Khan blamed "foreign" terrorists for the attack, but he offered no proof to back up the claim.
Musharraf is a close ally of Washington in its war on terrorism. The U.S. military has praised the Pakistani deployment in the tribal regions as part of a "hammer and anvil" effort to trap Al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts along the border with Afghanistan — where more than 11,000 U.S.-led forces are also hunting for terror suspects.
But the presence of Pakistani forces is resented by many locals.
"Yesterday's incident has created bad feelings," said Khaddin, one of more than 200 tribal elders who met Sunday with government officials in Wana. Khaddin, who uses only one name, added that residents wanted peace and would still work with the army.
Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, minister for frontier regions, told the Senate that a government committee would investigate the shootings and would prepare a report within a week. He did not say whether the report would be made public.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat said in an interview broadcast Sunday that counterterrorism operations have hurt the Al Qaeda network in the tribal areas.
"Its back has started to break," Hayyat told GEO television network.
Hayyat declined to say how long it would take to net bin Laden.
"You can have an immediate success tomorrow. It may take six months. It may take one year," he said. "The places they have to hide, the sanctuaries, the safe havens they have are getting fewer slowly."