Pakistani Army Holds Fire for Funerals After Battles With Militants Kill 250
MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan – The army halted attacks on villages near the Afghan border Wednesday to give residents time for funerals after days of fighting that killed as many as 250 people, a local schoolteacher said.
Ten residents went to the army base in Miran Shah, the North Waziristan region's main town, and military officials "assured us that just for today there would be no action so that the funerals of the locals could be held and the injured treated," Hafiz Muhammad Wali, the teacher who led the group, told The Associated Press.
He said he was told to announce the pause in hostilities in the nearby town of Mir Ali, where the fighting has been concentrated.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad confirmed that the military had spoken with the locals and said: "There is no cease-fire, but currently there is also nothing untoward happening either."
Residents reported a burst of shelling before dawn but there was no repeat of the fierce clashes that began on Saturday and have sent thousands fleeing for safety.
The clashes between troops and militants in the region near the Afghan border are the deadliest since Pakistan threw its support behind the U.S.-led war on terror in 2001.
On Tuesday, residents said Pakistani aircraft bombed Epi, a village near Mir Ali, killing dozens of militants and civilians and injuring many more, including shoppers in a packed bazaar. The army said the planes were targeting militant hideouts and that local tribesmen reported about 50 militants were killed. Arshad said on Tuesday that the airstrikes might have killed some civilians, but he had no exact numbers.
Residents said several dozen funerals were to be held in Epi on Wednesday.
The army has reported the deaths of up to 200 militants and 47 troops, and that scores more had been hurt.
Farid Ullah, a resident of Mir Ali, said some 10,000 people from the area had abandoned their homes and, with the army blocking the roads, walked through the mountains to safer towns.
He said 60 of his relatives were among them, but that he was staying behind along with his aging mother.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is trying to secure another term as president, vowing to shore up Pakistan's effort against religious extremists, who are trying to impose a harsh version of Islamic law in the northwest.
A bomb destroyed ten shops selling music discs — frowned on by fundamentalists — in the town of Kohat before dawn on Wednesday, police said. No one was hurt. A similar attack in the city of Peshawar on Tuesday wounded a dozen people.
Pakistan struck a controversial cease-fire deal with militants in North Waziristan last year. U.S. officials criticized the pact, claiming it provided a safe haven for al-Qaida and a rear base for Taliban guerrillas fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan.