Five Pakistani soldiers, 10 villagers, said killed

A roadside bomb killed five Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border on Thursday while 10 villagers were killed in fighting between soldiers and militants in another area, an official and witnesses said.The latest attack on the military came a day after President Pervez Musharraf handed command of the army to General Ashfaq Kayani, the former head of the main military intelligence agency.

Government and military officials have said Musharraf’s resignation would have no impact on efforts to combat militancy, and Musharraf stressed the importance of defeating terrorism after he was sworn in as a civilian president on Thursday.

The blast targeted a military convoy as it was traveling through the North Waziristan region, about 20 km (12 miles) east of the region’s main town of Miranshah, military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said.

“It was an IED (improvised explosive device) that killed five troops and wounded four on a road between Miranshah and Mir Ali,” Arshad said.

Many militants took refuge in remote North Waziristan and other areas on the border after U.S.-backed troops ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

The militants have been launching raids back into Afghanistan from their mountain strongholds.

They have also been infiltrating deeper into Pakistan including the Swat valley in North West Frontier Province where the army launched an offensive this month to clear out hundreds of pro-Taliban militants and their radical cleric leader.

Ten civilians were killed in the valley on Thursday when government artillery shells hit their houses, residents said.

A military spokesman, Major Amjad Iqbal, said he had no information about civilian casualties in Charbagh village but confirmed that a clash had taken place there on Thursday after militants fired rockets at troops.

“We responded and fired into the area from where the fire came. People should not shelter any militants in their residences,” Iqbal said in Mingora, the valley’s main town.

“WE’LL CHASE THEM”

Earlier, Arshad said security forces had captured the headquarters of the radical cleric trying to impose strict Islamic rule in Swat, and found weapons and communications equipment. But the cleric and his men had fled.

“The militants have run away towards the west in a few remote valleys. We’ll chase them and make sure those areas are also cleared,” Arshad said.

Villagers in the scenic valley, until recently a popular tourist destination, had in some places destroyed the militants’ bunkers and houses, he said.

“The people have more confidence and the police have gone back to many areas. Things are getting back to normal,” he said.

The bodies of six militants, including two Uzbeks, were found on Wednesday, he said. Up to 220 militants and 15 soldiers have now been killed in the past 10 days.

Musharraf cited rising militant violence when he declared a state of emergency on November 3. He said on Thursday that security forces had “broken the back of the spread of terrorism” from remote tribal lands on the Afghan border into so-called settled areas.

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