PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani Taliban militants told rivals to collect the bodies of their men on Tuesday in a northwestern town the Taliban seized the previous day, a tribal elder said.
Militants loyal to Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud seized the town of Jandola, on the main road into the South Waziristan ethnic Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border, in fighting on Monday.
The fighting comes as the government tries to end violence by Mehsud through talks despite concerns from the United States, which says negotiations and peace deals give militants a free hand to plot attacks.
At least nine people were killed in the fighting on Monday, most of them members of the pro-government Bitani tribe.
“We’ve been asked by the Taliban to pick up bodies which are lying there,” said tribal elder Haji Alamgir.
Khazan Gul, a member of a so-called peace committee the government had set up, later said nine bodies had been recovered.
Pakistan’s semi-autonomous Pashtun lands along the Afghan border have been a refuge for Taliban and al Qaeda militants since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban government in Afghanistan in late 2001.
The area where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding has never come under the full control of any government and the United States says it has become a sanctuary for militants plotting violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond.
Mehsud, a member of South Waziristan’s Mehsud tribe, has emerged as Pakistan’s most notorious militant over the past year.
He has been accused of launching a string of suicide attacks across the country including a December 27 gun and bomb attack in which former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed.
The top political official in the Jandola region, Barkat Ullah, said the area was completely under the control of the Taliban and the fighting was over.
Tribal elders were discussing the fate of up to eight members of the pro-government peace committee whom the Taliban had kidnapped, but Ullah declined to say what action the police might take.
A military spokesman referred queries to the Interior Ministry, saying it was responsible for security in the region despite the presence of an army base with about 4,000 men just outside the town.
The government’s top Interior Ministry official was not immediately available for comment but a security official said he expected government action to restore control of the town.
“This is basically between the two tribes. This is a Bitani area and the Mehsuds have attacked them because the Bitanis were part of the peace initiative,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
“The Mehsuds were in a pretty comfortable position before the army moved into the area so now they want to reassert their control.”
Separately, militants attacked a military post in the Swat valley in North West Frontier Province where the militants and provincial government signed a peace pact last month.
A militant was killed and one wounded when troops responded, Colonel Mohammad Nadeem Anwar told reporters. A militant spokesman said two people were killed.
The mountain valley was a tourist destination until last year when militants began attacking police as part of a bid to impose Taliban-style rule.