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Dozens Dead In Clashes In Pakistan Tribal Region

March 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Reports say at least 50 people have been killed in continuing clashes between Al-Qaeda-linked militants -- most of them Uzbeks -- and tribesmen near the Pakistani border with Afghanistan.

The fighting between Pakistani tribesmen and foreign militants reportedly started on March 19 near Wana, the capital of the South Waziristan tribal region.

Ismail Khan, a Peshawar-based editor with Pakistan's "Dawn" daily, told RFE/RL the two sides traded mortar fire.

"There are still clashes going on and I've been told by government officials that heavy clashes are going on between the two sides, both sides using weapons," Khan said.

Many have died, including at least two children who fell victim to the crossfire. Most of the dead are reportedly Uzbek militants.

There are different figures on the number of casualties ranging from 50 to 100.

Reliable Information Hard To Come By

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Wahid Arshad is quoted as saying by agencies that "government forces are not involved in the tribal feud."

Khan says it is difficult to get reliable information about the situation in Pakistan's tribal region.

"There is still no independent confirmation of whatever [it is] that is happening, because the telecommunication system is nonexistent as militants had taken away all the equipment from "The telephone exchange in December," he said. and there [has been] no telecommunication access to the tribal region since then."

This week's battle is considered the resumption of earlier clashes that had ended following a cease-fire.

On March 6, clashes between the Pakistani tribesmen and foreign militants resulted in the death of at least 13 Uzbek militants.

Khan says the clashes are the result of growing tensions between Pakistani tribesmen and hundreds of militants who fled to Pakistan's tribal region following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The region's tribesmen had given the militants refuge but, as Khan says, in recent months some have called for the militants to leave the region.

"The local tribesmen, they were increasingly getting weary of the presence of these foreign militants, who they name for most of the crimes in that area, including extortion, kidnapping, and targeted killings," he says. "These people were getting uneasy and uncomfortable with these Uzbeks."

Most of the Uzbeks in the region are reportedly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan led by Tahir Yuldashev.

Yuldashev's whereabouts are unknown.

Pakistan has launched several operations in the semiautonomous tribal regions against the militants, resulting in many deaths on both sides.

Yet Afghan and U.S. officials have accused Islamabad of failing to do enough to crack down on the Islamic militants living in the tribal regions.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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