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Pakistani Security Forces Clash with Pro-Taliban Militants


Pro-Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan have clashed with paramilitary forces, a day after a deadly bomb attack on a troop transport truck in the area. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that area residents report at least three deaths in the clash.

The fighting erupted in the early afternoon near the home of a radical Muslim cleric wanted by the government. For several hours, militants allied with outlaw leader Maulana Fazlullah traded gunfire with paramilitary forces and police. Mortar fire and explosions rocked the village of Imamdheri.

A spokesman for the Northwest Frontier Provincial administration, Badshah Gul Wazir, says the fighting began when a helicopter carrying a senior military official tried to land near the village. He says the helicopter came under fire from heavy weapons and mortars in the village of Imamdheri, the paramilitary forces responded to the attack and the exchange of fire continued.

Area residents say military forces surrounded and fired on the village, but Wazir denies the allegation, saying that government forces merely responded when attacked.

Earlier this week, more than 2,000 paramilitary troops were sent to the region - a move government officials say is to boost security, and not a sign of a new offensive against militants.

On Thursday, a bomb attack on a military convoy in the area injured or killed more than 30 people.

Several groups of pro-Taliban militants in the region have clashed with security forces in recent months. Maulana Fazlullah leads the most prominent group, the Movement for the Implementation of Islamic Law. The group is also known as TNSM, the initials of its Urdu name.

The movement sent hundreds of troops into Afghanistan in 2001 to help the Taliban government then in power against the U.S.-led invasion. Officials now accuse the group of developing links with anti-government militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.

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