Sectarian Clashes Leave 49 Dead, 115 Hurt in Pakistan

Gunfights erupted again Thursday in villages near the Afghan border where clashes between Sunni and Shiite Muslims have killed at least 49 people over the past week, an official said.

A local lawmaker said the sectarian fighting was likely the worst ever in the Kurram tribal region, and that nearly 100 people may have died so far.

The government is moving security forces to the area, said Arbab Mohammed Arif Khan, secretary for law and order in Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal regions. It also has sent a 40-member delegation of tribal elders to broker a peace.

The trouble began a week ago when Shiites came under fire near their mosque in the region's main town of Parachinar amid tensions over a rally organized by Sunnis.

Parachinar was quiet Thursday because of a round-the-clock curfew. But the fighting continued in three or four nearby villages, Khan said. He said 49 people had died and 115 had been wounded in the violence.

Syed Javed Hussain, a lawmaker from Parachinar, said reports from residents indicate at least 100 people have died and 150 have been wounded. He said the government had not done enough to stop the fighting and demanded army troops restore order.

Sectarian violence has long blighted Pakistan, where about 80 percent of people are Sunnis and most of the rest are Shiites.

Both sects generally live in peace, but extremists on both sides launch attacks. In Kurram, a tribal region only partially under state control, weapons are freely available and members of each sect are heavily armed.

The schism between Sunnis and Shiites dates to a 7th century battle over who was the true heir to Islam's Prophet Muhammad.