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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Tribals demand withdrawal of army
By Haroon Rashid
BBC News, Peshawar

Troops stand guard in Mira shah town in North Waziristan
Troops and militants clashed for days in Miranshah last month
Thousands of tribesmen in Pakistan's North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan have demanded the Pakistan military withdraw all its forces there.

They made the demand at a protest rally in the small town of Mir Ali, some 30km east of Miranshah.

The leader of pro-Taleban militants in neighbouring South Waziristan made a similar demand in a telephone interview with the BBC's Urdu service.

The demands come at a time when tension is running high in the region.

Pakistan has deployed nearly 80,000 troops along the border to hunt down militants who sought refuge in the rugged tribal terrain after the ousting of the Taleban in Afghanistan in late 2001.

North Waziristan has seen some of the bloodiest clashes between the security forces and local militants in the four years since the military started operations against al-Qaeda and the Taleban and their supporters.

'Sabotaging peace'

The rally in Mir Ali to call for the army's withdrawal comes after the Pakistan military says that it killed 43 militants in fighting in North Waziristan this week.

Local tribal leader Maulvi Abdul Rehman said they could take care of the area on their own as had done prior to the 2002 deployment of the military.

Meanwhile, a militant leader from South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, who signed a peace deal with the government in February, 2005, accused the military of not honouring its agreement to withdraw its forces.

In an interview with the BBC Urdu Service, he accused the intelligence agency, the ISI, of threatening his life and of trying to sabotage the peace deal.

Accusations

He also said that the clashes in North Waziristan this week were the result of an army ambush on a militant convoy returning from operations in Afghanistan.

Tribals flee their homes in Mira shah during last month's clashes
Many tribes people fled their homes during last month's clashes

The government said on Thursday that the militants had come from South Waziristan in three trucks and two pick-up vehicles to attack security force positions in North Waziristan.

"Why would we be travelling in such a big convoy if we were going to attack security posts?" Mr Mehsud asked.

He accused the military of killing some militants after they were arrested.

He disputed the government's figures, saying only eight militants had been killed.


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