Pakistan military: 23 militants killed in fighting

REBECCA SANTANA Associated Press Published:

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistani soldiers killed 23 militants during clashes in the North Waziristan tribal area, military officials said Thursday, though residents said many civilians were among the dead.

A convoy going to help soldiers wounded in a suicide attack came under fire late Wednesday in the town of Mir Ali, the military officials said. The troops returned fire, killing the militants, they said, while three security personnel were wounded.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

Four Pakistani troops were killed in the earlier suicide attack when a bomber rammed an explosive-laden car into a checkpoint outside an army camp, authorities said. They said 25 soldiers were wounded.

But two residents in the town where the clashes happened, Akhtar Khan and Arif Dawar, disputed the military's claims. They said many of the dead were civilians.

North Waziristan is a remote and dangerous part of Pakistan near Afghanistan, making it difficult for journalists to independently report from there.

Pakistani troops have been battling militants in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan for years. The militants have carried out scores of attacks around the country that have killed thousands of civilians and security forces.

Residents in the tribal areas often accuse the military of indiscriminately opening fire after they are attacked. The military disputes that and says militants often dress in civilian clothes to hide among the local population.

Meanwhile, a bomb exploded outside an ice cream parlor Thursday night in Quetta, killing one person and wounding eight, police officer Nemat Ali said. Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan, Pakistan's largest but poorest province that has been plagued by violence.

Baluch separatists pushing for independence often attack Pakistani troops or government installations while members of the minority Shiite Muslim sect are often killed by Sunni Muslim extremists who do not view them as true Muslims. Members of the Afghan Taliban also are believed to be living in the province.

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Associated Press writer Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan, contributed to this report.