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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 January 2008, 13:36 GMT
Army 'flees second Pakistan fort'
Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan
Eyewitnesses say troops took their weapons away
Pakistani troops have abandoned a fort in a remote tribal area, a day after another was overrun by pro-Taleban militants, officials and witnesses say.

They say that paramilitary personnel at Sipla Toi military post in South Waziristan left their positions fearing an attack by the militants.

But an army spokesman told the BBC he had received no such reports.

On Wednesday, the army said hundreds of militants temporarily seized a fort in the Sararogha area of South Waziristan.

'Open challenge'

Locals told the BBC that 30-40 troops had been stationed at Sipla Toi, some 90km (55 miles) from the town of Dera Ismail Khan. The outpost is nearly as big as the one at Sararogha.

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"According to our reports, the troops abandoned the fort on their own. Some left last night, others went away this morning.

"There was no attack from the Taleban," a South Waziristan tribal administration official based in the town of Tank told the BBC.

A resident of the area said that the retreating troops had not left any weapons or ammunition behind.

A Taleban spokesman, Maulvi Umar, told the BBC Urdu service that militants had captured the Sipla Toi fort. But there was no independent confirmation of his claims.

South Waziristan is a known stronghold of pro-Taleban and al-Qaeda militants.

The region has been at the centre of fighting between the army and militants in recent months.

Correspondents say the militants are now openly challenging the army in the area bordering Afghanistan.

They are eroding confidence in the government's ability to ensure stability for elections due next month that are meant to complete a transition to civilian rule.

Helicopter gun ships

The army said seven soldiers were killed in the Sararogha attack and 15 men are still missing. The Taleban say they killed 16 troops and captured another 12 during the fighting.

The army said about 200 militants had charged the fort in the Sararogha area from four sides on Tuesday night.

Local officials and other reports suggested the number of militants may have been nearer to 1,000.

Observers say it was the first time that militants have captured a fort in Pakistan.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan says that if the militants had stayed in the fort, they would have made themselves the target of the military's artillery or helicopter gun ships.

The army says that up to 40 attackers were killed in the fighting, something the tribal fighters deny.

Officials said troops at the fort came under rocket and automatic weapons attack from militants. Soldiers returned fire and the battle went on until early on Wednesday morning.

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