Pakistan forces kill 50 militants near Afghan border

KHAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani helicopter gunships attacked militants’ hideout in a volatile tribal region on Monday and killed around 50 insurgents, taking the death toll to nearly 160 in five days of fighting, officials said.

More than 100 militants and nine soldiers were killed in fighting sparked by an attack on a security checkpoint on Wednesday in Bajaur tribal region, near the Afghan border. Bajaur is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants.

“The helicopter gunships pounded positions of the militants in Bajaur and killed about 50 of them,” a security official told Reuters. There were no casualties from the security forces, he said.

The fresh clashes erupted after militants attacked another post overnight.

A Reuters reporter said thousands of people were fleeing from the area after aircraft bombed four villages.

Separately, residents found the beheaded bodies of two men in an area 16 km (10 miles) west of Khar, Bajaur’s main town, with a note that they had been killed for spying for U.S. and Pakistani forces.

“The note said the men were helping forces … identify militant positions,” said Mohmammad Khan, a local resident.

Meanwhile, two Shi’ite Muslims and a Sunni Muslim were gunned down in suspected sectarian attacks in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan.

Violence has intensified across Pakistan’s northwest after a lull that followed an election in February when a coalition government led by the party of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto came to power seeking to negotiate peace.

Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who is also accused of plotting Bhutto’s assassination, suspended talks in June and security has deteriorated since then.

Elsewhere, a man was killed when he was trying to plant explosives outside a hospital in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, police said.

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