WANA, Pakistan (AFP) -Pakistani tribesmen attacked foreign Al-Qaeda militants hiding in bunkers in ongoing clashes that killed five people in the nation’s lawless tribal region, officials and residents said.
Pro-government tribesmen launched an assault overnight on bunkers occupied by the militants as part of efforts to drive them from the South Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan, they said on Saturday.
They seized seven bunkers dug into a mountain from where the Uzbek militants and their Chechen and Arab allies could launch attacks on the main town of Wana, they said.
“The foreign militants fled. They suffered casualties but details were not available,” a security official told AFP, requesting anonymity.
He said a pro-government tribal commander was wounded in the fighting which continued until Saturday morning.
Foreign militants also shelled Pakistani army soldiers in the area, killing two, another security official said.
Troops from an army base in the area responded with artillery fire targeting foreign militants on the outskirts of Wana, he said.
Two children were killed late Friday when a mortar shell fired by Uzbeks landed in their home in Shen Warsak town and the body of a tribal fighter was found in the area on Saturday, residents said.
The fighting in the region come as President Pervez Musharraf, a key US ally, faces international pressure to get tough on extremists who have regrouped in Pakistan’s tribal-run regions since 2001.
Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told AFP late Friday that 56 people were killed on Thursday and Friday, 45 of them foreigners, as fighting “intensified after peace talks failed.”
“Tribes are insisting on their demand that these people either surrender or quit the area,” Sherpao said.
Last week the government said clashes in South Waziristan left 160 people dead, again mostly Chechens and Uzbeks. Local sources put the toll lower but the figures could not be independently verified.
Officials say Pakistani troops were not involved in the fighting which was triggered on March 19 after foreign militants “misused” the traditional tribal hospitality and killed local people and tried to grab their lands.
Hundreds of foreign militants took shelter in the area after the fall of Taliban regime in US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.