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Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Saturday, 17 April 2010 15:49 UK

Pakistan army admits civilian deaths

Ashfaq Kayani, March 2010
Gen Kayani issued a rare apology for the civilian deaths

Pakistan's army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, has apologised for the deaths of dozens of civilians during air raids near the Afghan border last week.

More than 40 people died in what the army claimed was an attack on militants in a small village in the Khyber area.

They belonged in fact to a tribe that was pro-government and had resisted Taliban influence, correspondents say.

The army regularly reports killing militants in air strikes, while denying responsibility for civilian deaths.

In a brief statement on Saturday, Gen Kayani offered his heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and said he had ordered measures be taken to avoid such "unfortunate incidents" in the future.

Deadly strike

Last Saturday, Pakistani military aircraft bombed the remote village of Saravilla.

People injured in air strike in Pakistan's Khyber region arrive at hospital in Peshawar - 10 April 2010
The villagers belonged to a pro-government tribe

Officials initially said 42 Taliban militants had been killed, but locals said more than 60 civilians were killed, including women and children.

Compensation has been set aside for the affected families, but the attack has unsurprisingly been extremely damaging for Pakistan's army, the BBC's Aleem Maqbool reports from Islamabad.

The army chief's apology and assurances suggest he recognises how crucial and fragile public support is, our correspondent adds.

The army is under heavy pressure from the US to move against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the north-west.

Human rights groups have said civilian casualties in military operations have been considerable, but have been underestimated and under reported.

Relief agencies say the offensives against militants in Pakistan and in neighbouring Afghanistan have displaced more than one million people.

In a separate incident on Saturday, at least 30 people were killed and 50 injured in a double suicide bomb attack at a camp for displaced people near the city of Kohat, police said.

The victims were Shia Muslims, and a Sunni group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, said it carried out the attacks, our correspondent says.



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