Pakistan Battles Taliban in Northwest

PAKISTAN (RPRN) 4/28/09–Pakistan’s military says attack helicopters and fighter jets are pounding Taliban militants in the northwest, as the military works to to expel extremists from Buner, a district that is only 100 kilometers from the capital.

A Pakistani Army spokesman said the military expanded its operation against the Taliban Tuesday. He said officials obtained communications that showed the Taliban extremists had no plans to leave Buner. He said the military estimates about 500 militants are in that district in the Malakand region.

Security forces began this latest offensive in Malakand on Sunday, in the district of Lower Dir, just days after Taliban militants advanced to Buner and appeared to leave.
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But Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Tuesday that Taliban militants returned to Buner district on Monday. He vowed to attack them if they tried to block efforts to re-establish government authority in the area.

Thousands of people are fleeing the Lower Dir district of Malakand, following fierce clashes between troops and militants.

Officials say 70 Taliban militants have been killed in the fighting since Sunday.

A spokesman for radical cleric Sufi Mohammad defended the Taliban in Lower Dir Tuesday, saying “criminals and murderers” were the true culprits of the recent violence.

Officials in the North West Frontier Province have urged militants in Malakand to honor their pledge to lay down their arms after the government agreed to impose strict Islamic law (Sharia) throughout the district.

But Sufi Mohammed’s spokesman said he has suspended peace negotiations with government officials until the military operation is halted.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.