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Page last updated at 06:31 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 07:31 UK

Many killed in Pakistan fighting

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At least 20 militants and four troops have been killed in fighting in north-west Pakistan, the army says.

Fighting took place as the security forces overran Rashakai village - a militant stronghold in Bajaur tribal district on the Afghan border.

Clashes began in August when troops tried to set up a post in Loi Sam - a strategically important village.

The government forces say they have recaptured the village but there are reports of resistance in some parts.

Bajaur is long believed to have been the most likely al-Qaeda sanctuary inside the Pakistani border region, and has been the target of several suspected US missile attacks since 2006.

Earlier this month, Pakistan's military suspended its operations against Taleban militants in Bajaur.

The government said this suspension of fighting was in honour of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Taleban spokesman Maulvi Omar welcomed the announcement, but he said militants would not lay down their arms.

The government said it would retaliate if attacked by the militants.

'Dismantled'

An army spokesman, Major Murad Khan, told the BBC that four troops were killed in an ambush in Rashakai village, close to Loi Sam.

In the ensuing fighting, 20 Taleban militants were killed, he said.

Officials said they had secured Rashakai village and dismantled the Taleban's main command and control centre there.

They said the militants were still resisting in parts of Loi Sam which, many believe, is crucial to militants in the Mohmand and Bajaur tribal regions to link up with each other and also to launch cross-border raids inside Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Taleban spokesman Maulvi Omar told the BBC's Urdu service that at least 24 soldiers had been killed in the battle for Rashakai.

There is no independent confirmation of either claim.

Fighting broke out in the region last month when security forces, under increased international pressure to prevent militant infiltration into Afghanistan's Kunar province, tried to take control of Loi Sam village.

The troops had to retreat due to a massive response from the militants.

The recent ground action has come following more than three weeks of bombing of the region by government artillery and helicopter gunships.

Officials say 560 militants have died in the campaign and nearly 300,000 people fled the area last month to escape the fighting.




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