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Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 11:48 UK

Family killed in Pakistan clashes

Pakistani police officers take position at a check post in Kabal, a troubled area of Swat valley in northern Pakistan
Pakistani forces have been fighting militants in Swat since last year

At least nine civilians, including an entire family, have been killed in fierce fighting between troops and militants in Pakistan, police say.

Seven family members died after a shell hit their house in the north-western Swat valley.

The army says 10 troops have died so far, and at least 25 rebels. The militants put their dead at five.

The violence has delivered a serious blow to a peace deal signed with the militants in Swat two months ago.

Officials say the body count could be much higher, because several houses have been destroyed in the fighting so far.

Hundreds of people on the way to or leaving Swat valley are stranded because of a curfew in the area.

The house of the family who died early on Thursday in the Deolai area was hit by a mortar bomb, killing its owner, his four small children and his parents.

It is not clear whether the shell was fired by the security forces or the militants.

"We are now preparing for the burial [of the victims] but facing hardships due to the curfew," a relative of the family, Jehanzeb Khan, told the AFP news agency.

Two other locals were also killed in shelling in Deolai, while other reports speak of several more civilian casualties in the area.

Kidnap

Troops backed by helicopter gunships and artillery have been targeting militant positions in parts of the district.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan in Pakistan says that dozens of people, including soldiers and militants, have been killed since the fighting began three days ago.

Our correspondent says that a stand-off between the two sides continues between lulls in the fighting.

A supporter of Maulana Fazlullah, a pro-Taleban cleric, in Swat
The security situation in Swat has been deteriorating despite a peace deal

In the neighbouring Kabal area, fighting has been reported around a police station, after a deadline issued by the militants for security forces to abandon it passed.

Correspondents say the security situation in Swat has been deteriorating despite a peace agreement between the government and pro-Taleban cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

The scenic Swat valley has been the scene of an insurgency by his followers since 2007. They want to enforce his version of Islamic Sharia law in the region.

The latest clashes come after three intelligence officials were killed and up to 25 security personnel kidnapped.

The situation was already tense with the militants expressing reservations over the peace deal.

They are demanding troops withdraw from the area and that fellow militants be released from custody.

The Swat accord is part of the government's plan to end Islamic militancy through peace deals.

The strategy has led to a dramatic drop in suicide bombings but critics say it has also allowed the Taleban to regroup.


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