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Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

New clashes 'kill 12' in Pakistan

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Mingora

Destroyed school in Saidu Sharif, Swat, Pakistan
Schools have been targeted in the Swat region

At least 12 people have been killed in two days of fighting between troops and militants in Swat in north-western Pakistan, officials and militants say.

The killings in Swat, a former tourist resort, come amid rising tensions in the area. Troops were deployed after an Islamic insurgency began in 2007.

The local Taleban want to impose their austere interpretation of Islamic law.

Hundreds of people have died in battles between security forces and militants led by local cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

Curfew

Those killed in the latest fighting in the Kabal area of Swat are reported to include eight militants who were shot dead on Sunday morning.

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An army spokesman told the BBC that the eight men killed were "hardcore" militants who died in a gun battle with security troops.

But a spokesman for the militants, Muslim Khan, told reporters that the military had killed eight Kabal residents after arresting them the night before.

Witnesses told the BBC the dead men included some local Taleban commanders.

However, they said all eight had been captured by troops in the village of Bara Bandai on Saturday night, and had been shot dead early the next morning.

Residents said an indefinite curfew was in force in the area as troops continued to search for militants.

Meanwhile, four civilians, including a woman, were killed when security forces pounded militant positions in the Kabal area early on Monday morning, witnesses said.

At least eight people were also injured in the shelling, they said.

Residents told the BBC by telephone they were unable to take the injured to the hospital in Mingora, the administrative centre of Swat, due to the curfew.

'Charges'

In a related development, the militants blew up a boys' school, about six kilometres (3.5 miles) from Mingora, on the road that connects the town with the rest of the country.

Militants say they target schools because they are used for shelter by troops.

Education department officials say troops have moved into a number of schools in Mingora and nearby areas in order to protect buildings from attacks by the militants.

The militants have destroyed more than 150 government schools over the past year, most of them for girls.

The Taleban oppose education for girls, which they say is un-Islamic.

On Sunday, a Taleban cleric announced on a local FM radio channel the names of more than 40 prominent politicians from Swat, saying they should appear in the Islamic courts to defend themselves against charges brought by local individuals.

The local Taleban are running a number of Islamic courts in areas under their control.

The cleric did not make clear what charges were faced by the politicians, some of whom are ministers and parliamentarians in North-West Frontier Province.

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