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Blast Targeting Military in Northwest Pakistan Kills 30

Local officials in Pakistan's northwestern Swat district say a roadside blast targeting a military transport has killed at least 30 people. Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that the attack took place days after more than 2,000 troops arrived in the region to deal with rising violence.

Witnesses in Swat say the bomb detonated near a truck carrying a platoon of paramilitary soldiers. Explosives and ammunition inside the vehicle then detonated, intensifying the blast.

Fazlur Rehman is an elected official in Swat who spoke to VOA from the scene of the attack.

He said a roadside blast targeted a truck with a platoon of up to 45 paramilitary soldiers on board. He says based on the intensity of the explosion, all of them may have been killed.

Witnesses said the blast outside the main city Mingora also may have killed several nearby civilians.

Rehman said tensions in Swat have been high since the deployment of additional troops to the region this week. The military insists the forces are there to help local authorities ensure security. But Rehman said there have been rumors that a military operation would be launched.

Radical Muslim cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who heads the banned group Movement for the Implementation of Islamic Law (TNSM), is believed to be a target of the military action. He has gone underground, but continues his popular radio broadcasts that discourage education for women and criticize the government.

Swat is a scenic district in Pakistan's mountainous Northwest Frontier Province that has been a tourist draw for many years. But in recent months pro-Taliban groups in the region have launched attacks against Pakistani forces, following the government's deadly clash with militants in Islamabad's Red Mosque in July. Officials have also alleged that local militant groups have ties with fighters in Pakistan's tribal regions along the Afghan border.