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Last Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
Al-Qaeda 'strong' in tribal area
Waziristan map
A senior provincial official in Pakistan has said there are hundreds of al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants in the tribal area of North Waziristan.

The claim came just days after pro-Taleban militants in the area pledged to expel foreign fighters.

The promise was part of a deal with Pakistan aimed at ending years of unrest in the tribal belt.

Hundreds of people have been killed this year in violence in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border.

Tens of thousands of Pakistani troops are fighting foreign Islamic militants and their local supporters in the area.

Lt Gen Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, governor of North West Frontier and the top administrator for the tribal areas, said on Friday that the number of al-Qaeda-linked fighters in North Waziristan was in the "hundreds", although he did not give exact figures.

Pakistan army soldier monitors the Afghan-Pakistan border
North Waziristan provides a base for cross-border attacks

The retired general defended an amnesty offered to local militants under the new peace deal.

But he made it clear that Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders would never be granted a reprieve.

The North Waziristan accord calls on tribesmen to expel foreign militants and end cross-border attacks in return for a reduced military presence.

Some commentators have suggested that the deal offers the government an exit from a military strategy that has largely failed.

But Gen Aurakzai denied that was the case.

"The military is going nowhere," he said. "A mere relocation of 200 soldiers will not have any adverse effect on (the) campaign against terrorists."

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