Pakistani army attacks militants; up to 10 dead

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 14 (Reuters) Pakistani troops backed by helicopter gunships killed up to 10 militants today in a northwestern tourist region where pro-Taliban rebels have been infiltrating and expanding their influence.

More than 200 people have been killed in recent weeks in clashes between the security forces and followers of an Islamist cleric, Mullah Fazlullah, in the Swat valley in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The army attacked militant positions in a village with helicopters and artillery, killing up to five militants, the military said in a statement.

In a separate attack, security forces killed up to five militants in another area, which intelligence officials and police said had been largely captured by the militants.

Residents of the area said heavy fighting had broken out near the town of Alpuri which police official Danishwar Khan said the militants had occupied.

The Swat valley with its mountains, trout streams and the country's only ski resort had until recently been a tourist destination.

But militants, including up to 800 foreigners, have infiltrated from strongholds on the Afghan border while the government's attention has been focused on President Pervez Musharraf's attempt to secure another term.

In a separate incident, a bomb exploded as a military convoy was passing wounding eight soldiers, said army spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad.

Pakistani security forces have been battling militants along the Afghan border, especially in the North and South Waziristan regions, in recent years and hundreds of soldiers and militants have been killed.

Violence, including a wave of suicide attacks, has surged since July when the army stormed a mosque complex in the capital, Islamabad, where militants linked to Waziristan had set up a pro-Taliban stronghold well stocked with arms and ammunition.

More than 100 people, most of them militants, were killed in the assault on the Red Mosque.

Musharraf cited militant violence as one of the reasons for his decision to impose a state of emergency on November 3.

REUTERS PY BD2128

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