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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 April 2007, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Pakistan army joins tribal fight
Militant in South Waziristan
The militants have imposed their authority in much of the tribal areas
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has admitted publicly for the first time that the army has helped tribal fighters battling foreign militants.

He said local Pashtuns had killed about 300 foreign militants in several weeks of clashes near the Afghan border.

Local sources put the figure much lower, at fewer than 100.

The army had denied any role in the fighting but now says it is helping locals drive out foreigners, among them al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters.

They have killed about 300 of them, and they got support from the Pakistan army
President Musharraf

It says fighting in troubled South Waziristan broke out after tribesmen accused Uzbek militants of criminal behaviour.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says the military may want to highlight the uprising against the Uzbeks because it is under pressure from the West to move against foreign fighters in the lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border.

She says Nato is concerned about the infiltration of militants into Afghanistan, but it is not clear whether the campaign will stop that.

Under pressure

President Musharraf was addressing a military conference in the capital, Islamabad.

map

"The people of South Waziristan now have risen against the foreigners," he told those present.

"They have killed about 300 of them, and they got support from the Pakistan army. They asked for support.

"We are demanding the same in North Waziristan, and there are indications the same may happen there also," he said.

Our correspondent says the president's casualty figures are higher even than those given so far by the army - and much higher than that reported by locals.

She says the Uzbeks were not significantly involved in the Afghan insurgency, but many of the tribesmen fighting them are.

'Driven out'

Poor security in the region has kept most reporters out and there are minimal telephone links, making it virtually impossible to verify the tally offered by officials.

Pakistan-Afghanistan border
The area is renowned for its inhospitable terrain

Heavy clashes broke out in South Waziristan on 19 March, sparked by a demand from a tribal leader that Uzbek militants in the area leave or disarm.

The tribesmen proclaimed victory earlier this week, saying the foreigners had been driven out of their bunkers. Their claim was backed by the army.

President Musharraf said that the latest developments vindicated his policy of signing peace deals with local tribes, despite criticism from Western allies.

Both Nato and the US say that attacks on their forces in Afghanistan have increased since the deals were signed in South Waziristan in 2005 and North Waziristan in 2006.

Pakistan argues that the number of cross-border assaults has in fact dropped.

President Musharraf said he was "very satisfied with the intelligence co-operation between the US forces [in Afghanistan] and the Pakistani army", but added that "lingering mistrust" of Pakistan's commitment was troubling.

"If Pakistan, myself, the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's main intelligence agency] and the coalition forces across the border are all bluffing each other then it is better to end the co-operation," he said.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Footage from Pakistan's troubled border



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