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Pakistani tribals vent anger over military campaign

Written by: Staff
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MIR ALI, Pakistan, Apr 7 (Reuters) Embittered by the deaths of hundreds of kin during clashes with the army in recent weeks, Pakistani tribesmen today vented their anger with the government at a tribal council in a town near the Afghan border.

''The government is carrying out a genocide of the tribesmen at the behest of Americans,'' Abdur Rehman, a local Muslim cleric, told about 10,000 tribesmen congregated in Mir Ali, a small town in North Waziristan.

The council, known as a jirga, passed a resolution demanding the government remove military check posts in North Waziristan and confine troop deployment to the border.

A military campaign to rid the tribal areas of al Qaeda militants switched to North Waziristan from South Waziristan last year, and there have been a series of fierce clashes in the past month.

The army has used artillery and helicopter gunships to quell pro-Taliban tribals and around 250 people have been killed since early March.

Violence escalated after Pakistani special forces blasted an al Qaeda base used by Chechen, Afghan and Central Asian militants, but tribesmen said innocent villagers were also killed.

Earlier this week, the army said it killed at least 40 militants in a counter-offensive after they fired rockets on a paramilitary post in Shawal area, killing four troopers.

Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt, near the Afghan border, has been infested with al Qaeda remnants and Taliban militants who fled Afghanistan after US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.

President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, last month warned foreign militants hiding in the tribal region to leave Pakistan or face annihilation.

REUTERS SHR RN1819

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