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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 October 2007, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Burials follow Waziristan clashes
Damaged car in Dagan, 30km (18 miles) west of Miranshah
Locals say that many civilians have been killed
Villagers in Pakistan's tribal region of North Waziristan have been burying the dead after days of fighting between the military and pro-Taleban militants.

Officials estimate that some 200 militants and 50 soldiers have been killed in the clashes around the town of Mir Ali.

Local people say many civilians are among the dead. Residents have been fleeing the area.

The US says North Waziristan is a safe haven for al-Qaeda.

President Musharraf - who is trying to overcome challenges to serving another term as president - has vowed to rid Waziristan of extremism.

Gathering

One village hit by air strikes on Tuesday was Epi, near Mir Ali. Resident said dozens of militants and civilians were killed and many injured, including shoppers in a packed bazaar.

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"Around 3,000 tribesmen gathered in Epi village to offer funeral prayers for some 50 people who died in the air strikes," a local official told the AFP news agency.

The fighting in North Waziristan began on Saturday.

Correspondents say it is the heaviest fighting there since Gen Musharraf offered Pakistan's support for the US-led "war on terror" in 2001.

The military carried out more pre-dawn attacks on Wednesday.

But after that there had been no more fighting, army spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad said.

Correspondents say that Mir Ali is well-known as a base for foreign militants with links to the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

"I have not dared to go outside, so I don't know if there anyone was hurt," one resident, Farid Ullah, told the Associated Press news agency by telephone from Mir Ali.

Air strikes

The violence has been escalating since mid-July when a ceasefire between the army and the militants broke down.

Pakistani troops in North Waziristan (file photo)
The army faces well-armed, well-trained militants in Waziristan

Since Saturday the army has been bombing suspected militant positions in villages using helicopter gun ships and jet fighters.

Access for journalists to the tribal areas is restricted and it is impossible to independently verify the casualty figures.

Traditionally, the security forces kept out of the tribal border areas.

That all changed in 2001 after Gen Musharraf allied Pakistan to the US-led "war on terror" and vowed to crack down on militants based there.

For much of that time there has been a heavy military presence in Waziristan. But militants have still managed to increase their influence and control in many areas.

Hundreds of soldiers have been killed. But critics say the military has not done enough to crack down on the militants.

Moreover, elements in the army and the intelligence services have been accused of helping them.

The military campaigns are deeply unpopular in Pakistan as they are widely seen as being carried out under American pressure.

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