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Pakistan Army Reports 10 Militants Killed During Offensive in Northwest

A spokesman for Pakistan's army says 10 militants have been killed and five troops wounded during an operation aimed at re-taking control of an area in the country's northwest. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad on the clashes that began after security forces captured a deputy of Pakistan's top Taliban leader.

Pakistani armed forces launched the operation in Hangu district on Wednesday, following days of clashes between local security forces and several militant groups.

Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas says troops have moved north about 20 kilometers, and are now on the border of the Kurram tribal agency.

"At present, the operation is around the town of Zargari. The area around the town - the strongholds, etc. - are being cleared by the army and other troops," said Abbas.

Zargari is where fighters allied with Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud killed 17 paramilitary troops in an ambush last week. Militants in the region are also believed to have kidnapped about 20 people - some of whom are government workers.

The insurgents have demanded that police release seven of their fighters who were captured last week. One of those captured is a top deputy to Mehsud.

Following the clashes with government forces, a spokesman for the Taliban leader on Thursday accused officials in the Northwest Frontier Province of being insincere in recent peace talks. The Taliban spokesman said the province's ruling coalition, led by the Awami National Party, had five days to resign, or militants would begin an offensive against the government.

Pakistani media quoted regional officials calling the threat "nonsense," and saying that voters had given the government a mandate for five years.

When asked if the Pakistani Taliban has the capability to threaten the provincial government, Pakistan's army spokesman declined to comment.