23 killed in violence in north-west Pakistan

Islamabad_(dpa) _ At least 23 people, including 20 militants, were killed in overnight attacks by Islamist insurgents amid security operations by government forces in north-west Pakistan, officials and media reports said Monday.

Helicopter gunships and artillery pounded several positions of militants in the restive Swat district, where troops are fighting followers of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who wants to enforce Taliban-style rule in the region.

"According to preliminary information, more than 15 insurgents have died and half a dozen sustained injuries in the security action," a local military official said.

A female councillor was gunned by unknown gunmen who broke into her house early Monday in the Mingora area of the district.

Mohammad Jamil, a resident, said Taliban gunmen had warned her to abandon "immoral activities" she was suspected of carrying out.

A political worker from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, Siraj ud Din, was also assassinated by suspected Islamist insurgents while he was on his way home after prayers in a mosque.

The killings came as the conflict between Taliban and security forces in Swat, formerly a popular tourist destination in North Western frontier Province, completed one year.

Separately, a policeman was killed when insurgents attacked a police check post in Hangu district of NWFP with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles. One policeman was killed in the ambush, the Geo news channel reported.

Troops also targeted locations of militants in the tribal Mohmand district, where Pakistani troops launched a major offensive to eliminate sanctuaries of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.

"Five miscreants died and numerous were injured," another security official said.

Local tribesmen, who vowed not to support the Islamic extremists after negotiations with the government officials, handed over 17 Taliban rebels to the authorities, Geo TV said.

Inspector General Police NWFP Malik Naveed said 25 militants have so far been killed and 40 more arrested over the one week of the offensive during which the law enforcers took control 21 of 25 villages previously held by insurgents in Charsadda district of the province as they advanced towards the tribal district.

"Three policemen embraced shahdat (martyrdom) in the action," he added. dpa ns jh sc


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