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Tribal factions clash in Pakistan, 26 killed

Written by: Staff
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Peshawar (Pakistan), Mar 28: At least 26 people have been killed in clashes between factions led by rival Muslim clerics in Pakistan's tribal region on the border with Afghanistan, intelligence officials said today (Mar 28, 2006).

A Pakistani cleric incited tribesmen to attack Afghan families settled in the Khyber area, who were following a rival Afghan preacher, the officials said.

The clashes took place around Fort Salop, some 15 km southwest of Peshawar, the main city in North West Frontier Province.

Armed tribesmen attacked the house of a local supporter of the Afghan cleric, and shot dead at least 18 people before setting the house alight today, witnesses and intelligence officials said. One of the attackers was also killed.

The clashes had begun yesterday evening, when seven tribesmen were killed and 25 wounded before paramilitary troops opened fire to disperse a mob.

The Pakistani tribesmen had also taken an unknown number of people hostage, an intelligence official said.

"The attackers have taken hostage women and children," one intelligence officer said, requesting anonymity.

Tensions in the area have intensified in the past three months since the Pakistani cleric, Mufti Munir Shakir, went on a local radio station to urge tribesmen to expel Afghan preacher Pir Saifur Rehman and his supporters, officials said.

Authorities in the Khyber agency had expelled both preachers during the past few weeks, but the radio broadcasts continued to stoke bad feeling between followers of the two clerics.

"We are not against Afghan refugees and do not want to expel them. The clashes took place due to differences in the religious beliefs of the t3wo clerics," said Haji Zareef, a tribal elder.

Millions of Afghans fled to Pakistan during more than two decades of conflict in their homeland dating back to the Soviet occupation in 1979, and the Afghan cleric Pir Saifur Rehman had lived in the Khyber region for decades.

Afridi said an emergency tribal jirga (meeting) had been called in an attempt to restore calm, while bazaars had closed and public transport had been suspended.

Reuters

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