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Suspected Missile Hits Pakistan Border Village


Pakistan's government says it is still investigating an explosion near the Afghan border that killed at least 12 people late Wednesday. The blast, which locals and some officials blamed on a U.S. missile strike, could affect ongoing peace talks between pro-Taliban militants and government officials. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

A spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry said Thursday that investigators are still looking into the blast in Damadola village in the Bajaur tribal region. Mohammad Sadiq said he could not say how the incident would affect peace negotiations.

"Since we do not know the nature of the attack yet and it's being investigated, I cannot get into something which is very speculative," he said.

Pakistan's foreign ministry rarely comments on such explosions in the tribal regions, where pro-Taliban militants and al Qaida fighters are believed to plot attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Locals frequently allege that American pilot-less drones carry out the strikes. Pakistan officially bars foreign military operations within its territory.

Members of the country's newly elected government have vocally supported pursuing peace talks and ending such military operations against militants.

Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban group called Tehrik-e-Taliban, tells VOA Wednesday's explosion was an indication that foreign forces are trying to derail those talks.

He says our negotiations will continue, but we also have to see if Pakistan was involved in the attack. He says if there was government involvement then, as it has in the past, the Taliban will take revenge.

The peace talks have been stalled by militant demands for Pakistan to withdraw its military forces from the tribal regions, but this week negotiators reported several concessions.

Officials released some imprisoned militants in return for captured soldiers. The military announced withdrawing some of its forces in South Waziristan to allow some locals to return home. And officials said they agreed to allow judges in a conservative district in the northwest to consult Islamic scholars in deciding court cases.

Shaukat-ulla Khan represents the Bajaur tribal region in Pakistan's National Assembly. He tells VOA that although Wednesday's apparent missile strike could derail the talks, such negotiations are the only way to resolve the problems in the tribal regions. He says missile strikes only create support among locals for the militant groups.

"They want the government to give them shelter from these attacks," said Khan. "They want peace."

U.S. and NATO officials worry the peace talks will give militants space to regroup and launch more cross-border attacks inside Afghanistan. A peace agreement that President Pervez Musharraf struck with some militants in 2006 was blamed for a rise in attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.