Food supplies cut to subdue militants in NW Pakistan

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MINGORA, Pakistan Nov 23 (Reuters) Pakistani troops have cut food supplies to pro-Taliban militants mounting an uprising in a northwestern valley, as they targeted rebel positions today to flush them out of their strongholds, officials said.

Troops have clashed with fighters led by radical Islamist cleric Maulana Fazlullah in the scenic Swat valley of North West Frontier Province for weeks. More than 300 people have been killed since October, nearly half of them in the last week.

''All the checkposts set up on routes leading to militant (controlled) areas have been ordered not to allow any food items,'' said Major Amjad Iqbal, a military spokesman.

The food blockade comes as militants continued to put up fierce resistance with rockets and mortars against a fresh military push in the adjoining districts of Swat and Shangla.

Today, police foiled a suspected suicide attack in Swat's Kabal town, firing on two militants heading towards a police station after they ignored signals to halt, the military said.

''One individual got killed and the other, believed to be wearing a suicide belt, managed to escape from the scene,'' the military said in a statement posted on its official Web site.

Militants also set off a roadside bomb near a security forces convoy elsewhere in the region but caused no damage or casualties, it said.

Violence in Swat, which until recently was a popular tourist resort, surged after Fazlullah called for a jihad, or holy war, to push his campaign to impose a strict Islamic code in the area.

Militants infiltrated from strongholds in the tribal region of North and South Waziristan on the Afghan border to support Fazlullah in recent weeks, as the country's focus has been on Islamabad and President Pervez Musharraf's emergency rule.

General Musharraf cited rising militancy as a main motive for declaring the emergency and suspending the constitution, but critics say the real reason was to purge the Supreme Court of judges hostile to him to safeguard his October re-election.

Yesterday a Supreme Court stacked with more amenable judges threw out the last of six challenges to Musharraf's re-election, paving the way for him to be sworn in for a second term, this time as a civilian leader.

Reuters RC GC1658

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