Militant clashes kill nine civilians in Pakistan's Swat valley

Islamabad_(dpa) _ At least nine civilians, including women and children, were killed Thursday in clashes between Taliban rebels and security forces, while a compound used by militants was destroyed in Pakistan's troubled Swat district, media reports and officials said.

The civilians died when mortar shells hit their houses in several areas of Matta sub-district.

The English-language DawnNews television channel said five members of a family were killed when a stray shell struck their house in Darmai village, while another four people were killed in a similar incident in the Sambat area.

It was not clear who had fired the mortar rounds.

Separately, a raid carried out by air force helicopter gunships and jet fighters destroyed a militant facility in Piochar village in Matta.

"The position was neutralized and several militants holed up in there were killed," a security official said on condition of anonymity. However, he did not give casualty figures, saying these were being ascertained.

Successive explosions were heard after the aerial attack, suggesting that ammunition was stored in the compound, the official added.

Matta is the stronghold of Maulana Fazullah, the region's radical cleric who uses an illegal FM radio transmissions to incite a so-called Islamic rebellion.

Since October 2007, government forces have been battling Fazlullah's loyalists, who wage an armed struggle to enforce strict Taliban-style Islamic laws in Swat, which was once a popular tourist destination.

The rebels lately have targeted local politicians and government officials for "betraying" them by back-tracking on a shaky truce brokered earlier this year.

Fazlullah on Wednesday announced on his illegal transmissions that political and non-political figures would not be attacked only if they withdrew their support for the military offensive, the BBC Urdu service reported in its online edition.

Violence has intensified over the last few months after the insurgents scaled up their attacks, including suicide bombings, on the troops, and the fierce clashes have taken a heavy toll on the local population.

Heavy collateral damage in the military operations carried out in the militancy-plagued north-western regions close to the Afghan border has triggered political dissent with many lawmakers demanding a halt to the offensives.

Weeks of fighting in Bajaur tribal district, a known sanctuary of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters bordering Afghanistan, has reportedly killed scores of civilians and caused an exodus of around 250,000 locals to nearby safer areas.

On Wednesday, the army claimed it killed 20 militants in Badan village in Bajaur. Eight of the killed militants were described as "foreigners," a term used by the authorities for al-Qaeda men mainly from central Asian and Arab regions.

Pakistan's bicameral parliament is currently in session and the head of the country's premier Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, is briefing lawmakers on the militant threat.

But an opposition parliamentarian has described the in-camera proceedings as "superficial." dpa yam ns jh im


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