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Page last updated at 16:53 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 17:53 UK

Taleban storm district near Swat

By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Islamabad

Pakistani Taleban member
The Taleban are involved in a struggle for influence

Taleban militants from Pakistan's troubled Swat valley have stormed the nearby district of Buner, killing at least five people, police say.

A local tribal force has been battling the militants since Monday, but their resistance is weakening, residents say.

The Taleban overran Swat district nearly two years ago, and have held it despite an 18-month-long military operation to uproot them.

The Buner incursion is likely to strain a peace deal with the NWFP government.

Tribal force

Police said a group of Taleban fighters travelled late on Monday from Swat to Buner, a previously peaceful district about 100km (60 miles) north-west of the capital, Islamabad.

After the militants ignored appeals from community leaders to go back, armed tribesmen and police confronted them, sparking a battle that left three policemen and two tribesmen dead, local police officer Zakir Khan said.

Map

Mr Khan claimed that more than a dozen militants were killed in the clash, but this has not been confirmed by independent sources.

The people of Buner oppose the Taleban presence and have raised a tribal force since last year to resist them.

This force frustrated the Taleban's attempt to infiltrate the area during the autumn of 2008, killing at least six Taleban militants.

In December, a suicide bomber killed more than 30 people during an election campaign in Buner.

Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella group of militants, claimed responsibility for that attack, saying it was in response to the tribal force's action against the Taleban.

Residents of Buner told the BBC that this time the Taleban have come in greater numbers and the local force is unlikely to resist them for long, unless backed by aerial support from the military.

The government of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has not yet called for such support, apparently because this could jeopardise a peace deal it recently signed with the Swat militants.

The NWFP government says it signed the deal in February to bring 18 months of bloodshed in Swat to an end.

Under the deal, the government has promised to implement Islamic Sharia law in Malakand division, a grouping of six districts including Swat and Buner.

But the draft has not yet been signed by President Asif Zardari.

A presidential spokesman told the media earlier the draft would be signed only after peace had been established in Swat and the writ of the government restored.

But the militants have so far refused to give up their positions, or disarm.

Officials in Buner say militants refused to leave the positions they have established on the hilltops in Buner during talks held on Tuesday between the militants and Malakand Commissioner Syed Mohammad Javed.

The spokesman of the Swat Taleban, Muslim Khan, told the media the Taleban were in Buner to monitor the establishment of Islamic courts and would remain there.



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