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7 Die in Pakistani Military Operation near Afghan Border - 2004-03-16

The Pakistani military says at least seven people have been killed in heavy fighting between security forces and tribesmen suspected of sheltering al-Qaida and Taleban fugitives near the Afghan border.

A military spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan, told reporters in Islamabad that four paramilitary soldiers and three militants - including one foreigner yet to be identified - died in the fighting.

The spokesman said fighting broke out after paramilitary troops moved into Kaloosha village near the town of Wana in the South Waziristan tribal region early Tuesday morning.

The operation is the latest in a series of Pakistani military moves in semi-autonomous tribal regions considered likely hiding places for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, U.S. led forces in Afghanistan are continuing their new offensive in the southeastern part of the country. The U.S. military says operation "Mountain Storm," which began Saturday, is aimed at hunting down al-Qaida and Taleban fighters.

Monday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vowed to rid the tribal regions of suspected Islamic extremists. General Musharraf also acknowledged that up to 600 foreign Islamic militants may have taken refuge in the rugged areas of Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.