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Drone attack reported in Pakistan

US drone
Pakistani leaders are critical of the US drone tactic

Missiles fired by a US drone have killed seven militants in north-west Pakistan, close to the Afghan border, local officials and witnesses say.

They say that the unmanned aircraft fired missiles at two vehicles in the Makin area of South Waziristan.

The missile destroyed both vehicles, the Pakistani sources said.

While officials would not confirm the nationalities of the dead, local residents said most of them were militants of Arab and Uzbek origin.

Makin is located in the north-eastern part of South Waziristan, near its border with North Waziristan.

It is inhabited by the Mahsud tribe and dominated by local warlord Baitullah Mahsud, accused of plotting the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

'Priority'

"A predator strike was carried out in Makin area, 12km [eight miles] north-west of Ladha," a security official told the AFP news agency.

Tribal areas map

Correspondents say that more than 35 similar strikes have killed more than 340 people since August 2008, shortly before the election of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The US military routinely does not confirm drone attacks but the armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operating in Afghanistan are believed to be the only forces capable of deploying drones in the region.

Wednesday's attack was the seventh missile strike believed to have been carried out by US drones since President Barack Obama came to power.

He has pledged to make the war against the Taleban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan a foreign policy priority.

Pakistan is critical of the drone tactic because, it says, civilians are often killed, fuelling support for militants.

Most missile strikes by drones have targeted foreign fighters in the Waziristan region over the past couple of years.

The BBC's Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says the strikes are now also targeting facilities run by local or Afghan Taleban in the lower Kurram region, from where attacks have been launched into the Khost and Paktia provinces of Afghanistan.

The southern parts of the lower Kurram region share borders with Afghanistan's Khost province, where US and coalition forces have major deployments of forces.

Protests

Thousands of people have fled the violence in Pakistan's north-west in recent months, many of them heading to the city of Peshawar.

On Wednesday, at least one person was killed and several injured during a demonstration at the Jalozai camp near the city by people displaced by the fighting, officials said.

The protesters - from Bajaur, one of the districts worst-affected by clashes between Pakistani troops and militants - had been demanding compensation for their losses.

It is thought more than 5,000 houses have been destroyed in the fighting.

Police say they fired tear gas and shots in the air as stone-throwing protesters blocked the main road connecting Peshawar with the rest of the country. Protesters say police fired at the crowd.

At least eight people, including two policemen, were also hurt in the clashes, witnesses said.



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