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Pakistan to Investigate Deaths in Tribal Area - 2004-03-01

Pakistan plans to investigate the reported deaths of 11 civilians in its semi-autonomous tribal area, following what the army says was a shoot-out with suspected militants. The military also denies a report that U.S. forces will be allowed to search for alleged terrorists in the region.

A military spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan, says local Pakistani authorities will begin the investigation soon. They will look into reports that troops at a military checkpoint in Wana, the capital of the South Waziristan tribal agency, mistakenly killed civilians Saturday, believing them to be armed militants.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf called for the investigation amid protests over the incident by the public and members of Parliament. The military initially said the checkpoint had been fired on from an approaching vehicle, prompting the soldiers to return fire.

General Sultan noted on Monday that the government has promised compensation for any innocent victims. "If at all there is some innocent civilian who has been killed, he would be given proper compensation," he says.

The shootings occurred near the location of recent Pakistani military operations aimed at hunting down suspected foreign militants, including fugitive members of the al Qaida terror network.

On Sunday, two missiles struck near a military checkpoint just outside Wana, but no casualties were reported.

General Sultan says the rocket attack is not necessarily connected with Saturday's shooting. "As regard to the matter of firing rockets, it's not something unusual over there," he says. T"his keeps on happening."

The general also denies a report claiming Pakistan will allow U.S. troops to enter the area in their hunt for al Qaida members, including the group's leader, Osama bin Laden.

A U.S. magazine reported Monday that Pakistan has agreed to let in U.S. forces, and that in return, Washington would not press Pakistan over its recent nuclear proliferation scandal.

But General Sultan says such a deal would be impossible, because it would violate long-standing national policy. "No foreign troops would be allowed," he says. "This is a matter of policy, and this is very clear. It's a matter of our sovereignty."

Pakistan has, however, previously allowed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officers into the country as part of the global campaign against terrorists.