Thirty militants, 6 Pakistani soldiers die in clash

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ISLAMABAD, Oct 7 (Reuters) Pakistani soldiers backed by helicopter gunships killed 30 pro-Taliban militants in clashes in which six soldiers also died, a military spokesman said.

The attack in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border came a day after US ally President Pervez Musharraf swept the most votes in a presidential election.

''The operation is over but some clashes are still going on in other areas,'' said military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad.

''We have confirmed reports of 30 militants dead and 30 wounded,'' he said. Six soldiers were killed, he said.

Pakistan has seen 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 Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Musharraf has said terrorism and extremism are the biggest challenges the country faces and has called for reconciliation among political parties to tackle it.

Troops used heavy artillery and helicopter gunships to attack militants positions in mountains after militants ambushed an army convoy near Mir Ali town on Saturday evening, Arshad said.

Residents had said earlier they had seen a military build-up, apparently in preparation for an offensive against the al Qaeda-linked militants.

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.

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

REUTERS JK VC1850

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