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Blast Kills 17 Suspected Taleban Militants in Pakistan

Pakistani military officials say at least 17 suspected Taleban militants were killed when a powerful bomb ripped through their hideout near the Afghan border. From Islamabad, VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand Reports.

The blast rocked a small town on the edge of Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border.

Pakistani news channels are reporting the powerful explosion was caused by a missile fired from inside Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials are disputing claims of any missile attack, but insist the blast's victims are all suspected Taleban fighters.

Army spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad says the military was not conducting any operations in the region and he suggested the blast may have been an accident. "There was an explosion in a group of people who were, I think, playing around with explosives, making some devices perhaps [for] some militant group," he said.

U.S. officials in Afghanistan say they have no record of any missile strikes on locations outside the country.

This type of explosion, followed by eyewitness accounts describing a possible missile attack and then government denials of any involvement have become increasingly common in the region.

Local residents claim many of the attacks do originate from across the border, where U.S. and Afghan forces are struggling to contain pro-Taleban insurgents.

The militants have established a series of bases inside Pakistan, where foreign forces have officially agreed not to interfere or violate Pakistan's territorial sovereignty.

The Pakistan military insists it is doing everything it can to help secure the rugged frontier area, including deploying 80,000 troops to patrol the border.

Nevertheless hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taleban and al-Qaida militants are thought to operate with a relatively free hand throughout much of North Waziristan.

U.S. and Afghan concern grew even more last September after Pakistan signed a controversial peace deal with pro-Taleban tribal leaders in the region.

The peace accord was meant to isolate foreign born al-Qaida militants, but observers say the agreement effectively created a larger sanctuary for the Taleban insurgents and their allies.