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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 20:50 GMT 21:50 UK
Confusion over missing Pakistanis
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The fate of scores of Pakistani troops missing near the Afghan border is in doubt amid conflicting claims from militants and the army.

Pro-Taleban rebels say they are holding 300 men in South Waziristan after surrounding and disarming them.

The army said no troops were seized, but about 100 men could not move as they were caught up in fighting between militants and pro-government tribesmen.

Reports say frantic talks are going on to secure the men a passage to safety.

Contradictory claims

The soldiers, who were travelling in convoy, appear to have hit difficulties as they were travelling between South Waziristan's main town, Wana, and another town in the area, Ladha.

Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad initially said the men had been caught in bad weather and had taken shelter.

Later, he said they had become caught up in fighting between rival factions but wanted to avoid the use of force.

We have taken no decision to free the soldiers
Unnamed Muslim militant

"The troops have not been able to leave the area because there is a dispute between local tribesmen and militants who wanted to surround the soldiers," he told AFP news agency.

Maj-Gen Arshad said the men would leave once the local disputes had been cleared up.

But a militant leader told the Associated Press that his group was still holding the men.

"About 300 soldiers were present in our areas. We captured them, snatched their weapons and later shifted them to different places."

Speaking from an undisclosed location, he confirmed tribal elders had contacted his group, adding: "We have taken no decision to free the soldiers."

Earlier in the week, in an unrelated incident in the area, 18 soldiers held for weeks by militants were freed after a deal was brokered by tribal chiefs.

Violence has soared in the region since troops were sent into Islamabad's Red Mosque to flush out radical Islamists in July. More than 100 people died in the operation.




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