Militant raid, landmine blast in NW Pakistan; 26 killed

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MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, Oct 3 (Reuters) A landmine blast killed 14 bus passengers in Pakistan's North Waziristan today, hours after security forces killed 10 pro-Taliban militants in the tribal region near the Afghan border, officials said.

The militants had launched a pre-dawn raid on a checkpost in Spinwarm area, 35 km (25 miles) northeast of the region's main town of Miranshah, and killed two paramilitary soldiers before being repulsed.

''The fighting started early and ended at around 4.00 in the morning,'' said military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said. The militants took away their dead, he said.

Later today a landmine detonated in the Toda Chana area of North Waziristan killing 14 people on a bus and wounding five, intelligence officials and witnesses said.

Pakistan has been struck by a wave of violence since July, when a peace pact with militants broke down in North Waziristan and army commandos stormed a radical mosque in the capital, Islamabad.

The violence has reinforced opposition among many Pakistanis to army chief and president Pervez Musharraf's support for the US-led war on terrorism. Musharraf is preparing to seek a new term in office in an election on Saturday.

Today's incidents came two days after militants killed two paramilitary soldiers and captured 22 in an attack on a checkpost near the northwestern town of Bannu, a gateway to North Waziristan.

Militants in neighbouring South Waziristan are still holding about 225 soldiers captured at the end of August.

Waziristan is a hotbed of support for Taliban and al Qaeda militants, who fled to the region after U.S.-led forces drove them out of Afghanistan in late 2001.

Many Pakistanis say Musharraf is merely doing the bidding of the United States and unnecessarily stirring up militant violence in ethnic Pashtun areas bordering Afghanistan, but he says the Taliban have now become a serious threat to the Pakistan state.

REUTERS SKB VC2000

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