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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Al Qaeda Uzbeks, Pakistani tribesmen clash

WANA, Pakistan – At least 10 people were wounded on Monday in fighting that erupted between al Qaeda-linked Uzbek militants and Pakistani tribesmen in a region near the Afghan border, residents said.

The mountainous area of South Waziristan has been tense since 17 people, 12 of them militants, were killed in a battle between the foreign militants and tribesmen on March 6.

Hundreds of militants, most of them Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, have been hiding in Waziristan and other Pakistani tribal areas since fleeing Afghanistan when U.S.-led forces defeated the Taliban in 2001.

The recent clashes have been the most significant between the region's ethnic Pashtun tribesmen and the foreign militants, and follow government efforts to convince the tribesmen to help keep order and stop militant raids into Afghanistan.

The latest violence erupted in Shin Warsak, a village 7 km (4 miles) west of Wana, the region's main town. Both sides fired rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars at each other, residents said.

'The situation is very tense,' said a resident of Wana who declined to be identified.

'I counted 10 wounded tribesmen were brought to Wana,' he said, adding he had no idea about casualties on the other side.

The cause of the clash was not known. The March 6 fighting erupted after the militants tried to kill a pro-government tribal leader.

Hundreds of people were killed in South Waziristan during Pakistani military operations in 2003 and 2004 to clear the region of foreign militants.

The fighting subsided after the government struck a peace deal with the militants in 2005.

Militants have killed dozens of people across Waziristan, including pro-government tribal leaders and people they accused of spying for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
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