Militants kill three captive Pakistani troops

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WANA, Pakistan, Oct 4 (Reuters) Pro-Taliban militants have killed three of about 225 Pakistani soldiers held captive since late August in a tribal region near the Afghan border, witnesses and officials said today.

A militant spokesman in South Waziristan, a region regarded as a hotbed of support for Taliban and al Qaeda militants, had threatened yesterday to execute three soldiers every day unless security forces stopped operations in the area.

The bodies were found near an electricity grid station in the Jandola area of South Waziristan.

''All three of the dead found were in military uniform,'' an administration official, Sher Bhadur, told Reuters, in Jandola, about 70 km east of Wana, the main town in the region.

Military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said he was unable to confirm if they were soldiers until they were identified.

The militants had seized more than 240 soldiers when their supply convoy was blocked by a landslide in the mountains of South Waziristan, but they released 25 soldiers last month after the army agreed to abandon two posts in the area.

The militants have also demanded the release of captured comrades and withdrawal of troops from the posts in the region as part of a peace accord with the government that has since broken down.

Violence has intensified in Waziristan since July, with a spate of suicide attacks and several kidnappings of soldiers.

But the Pakistan army has been acutely embarrassed by the surrender of the supply convoy, which fueled criticism of President Pervez Musharraf's policy in a tribal area that the United States says has become a sanctuary for al Qaeda.

US ally General Musharraf is set to stand for re-election as president on Saturday, and has promised to step down as army chief and be sworn in as a civilian leader if he wins.

Twenty-six people, including 10 militants and two soldiers, were killed yesterday in a landmine blast and an attack on a checkpost in North Waziristan.

REUTERS PD SSC1308

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