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Pakistan attack death toll rises

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The death toll in a suicide attack at a gathering of elders in the Pakistani tribal area of Bajaur has risen to 19, a tribal elder and witness said.

Malik Kamal told the BBC Urdu service that nine elders or leaders of the tribal council were among the dead.

Nearly 40 others were wounded when the bomb went off in Bajaur on Thursday when the tribal elders were gathering to draw up a plan to expel militants.

Bajaur and the surrounding district is a crucial hub for insurgents.

Meanwhile another suicide bomber killed two security personnel and wounded five in the nearby Swat valley late on Thursday.

Troops have been fighting a rising tide of militancy in Swat since last year.

There have been major military operations against the Taleban in Bajaur.

'Running'

Officials say that the bomber in Bajaur targeted members of the Salarzai tribe as they held a jirga, or tribal council, to discuss ways to evict the Taleban from their area.

They say that a senior tribal elder, Sazlal Karim, was among the dead.

Many more people are in a critical condition, hospital staff say.

"The bomber walked up to the jirga and set off explosives strapped to his body," an official in Khar, the main town in the area, told Reuters news agency.

Pakistani security officials inspect the site of a suicide attack in Mingora, the main town in the restive Swat valley
There was another suicide attack in Swat

An elder present at the meeting said: "We don't know how and when he got there. We just heard a blast and then people started running here and there."

It is the second time in a month that a tribal meeting has been bombed in tribal areas near the Afghan border.

In other violence on Thursday, officials said that at least four suspected militants had been killed in aerial bombing by Pakistani jets in Bajaur.

They say that the jets targeted the residence of a local militant commander, but it is not known if he is also among the dead.

Targeting elders

Government forces have been conducting operations against militants in Bajaur since August.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Pakistan says that there have been some recent claims of success, but forces continue to face stiff resistance in various areas, especially near the Afghan border.

The army is also encouraging tribes in Bajaur and elsewhere in north-west Pakistan to stand up to militants linked to the Taleban and al-Qaeda.

In response, the Taleban have been targeting elders who oppose them.

Last month nearly 30 people were killed in a suicide car bomb attack in the Orakzai region aimed at a meeting of local people to discuss how to fight the Taleban.

The Taleban have grown in strength in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, where until recently they were safe from American attack.

But in recent months, the US and Pakistani military have been attacking their bases.

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