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Last Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Pakistan shrine clashes kill 17
Seventeen people have been killed in fighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims over a shrine in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, officials say.

The sides exchanged rocket and mortar fire in a dispute over ownership of the shrine to 18th Century figure Syed Amir Anwar Shah in Orakzai tribal region.

The violence began four days ago when clerics from the two sects tried to occupy the shrine.

The latest violence has brought the overall official death toll to 23.

However, tribesmen in the area claim that the number of dead is higher.

Armed volunteers

There were also reports that armed groups from neighbouring tribal regions were arriving in Orakzai to aid Sunni and Shia fighters.

The political administrator for Orakzai, Dr Sher Mahsud, told reporters on Friday that the government had sent Frontier Corps forces to the area to prevent further fighting.

Tribal elders and religious scholars from adjoining regions were being brought in to mediate between the feuding tribes, said Dr Mahsud.

Violence blamed on militants from Pakistan's Sunni and Shia communities has cost the lives of thousands of people over the past two decades.

Sunni Muslims account for around 80% of Pakistan's 160m people and are the dominant group in the tribal areas, although Orakzai has a significant Shia population.

The semi-autonomous tribal regions, which border Afghanistan, are heavily militarised, a legacy of the mujahideen war fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Analysis: Pakistan's tribal frontiers
14 Dec 01 |  South Asia
Country profile: Pakistan
31 Aug 06 |  Country profiles

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