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22 civilians die in air strike on Swat village

October 20, 2008


MINGORA, Oct 19: Fighter jets bombed a village in Swat’s Matta tehsil on Sunday morning, killing at least 47 people, including 22 non-combatants and damaging a dozen houses.

Locals feared that the death toll might rise because most of the injured could not be taken to hospitals owing to curfew and a number of people were believed to have been trapped under the debris.

The media information centre in Mingora claimed that 25 militants were killed in the air strike in Barthana and scores injured. It said security forces had also destroyed a guesthouse, or hujra, of commander Alamgir being used as a “den” by militants.

But eyewitnesses contradicted the official version alleging that residential compounds had been targeted in the area, some 60km northwest of Mingora and in the vicinity of Peuchar Valley, a stronghold of militants. They said that jets had made two sorties and dropped huge bombs, causing “massive destruction”.

“The bombing was so severe that it forced local people to start running for shelter, but curfew and closure of Venai bridge by security forces multiplied their agony,” said a journalist who visited the area.

Some local people said that the security forces has acted on suspicion that militants had been hiding in a mosque in Barthana.

The area has a population of 5,000 to 6,000. Many families had already migrated to safe places after the military operation.

Officials said that an explosive device had hit a military convoy in Sirsenai of Kabal tehsil on Sunday, killing one soldier.

Troops opened fire and killed three suspects, including the “operator” of the improvised explosive device. Forces exchanged gunfire with militants and conducted a search operation.

The sources said that a shell hit the house of Azizur Rehman, killing his daughter and wounding his wife and two sons. Curfew has been imposed in the area.

Suspected Bajaur positions shelled

KHAR: Security forces killed 11 militants and wounded eight others in air strikes they carried out in different areas of Bajaur on Saturday night and Sunday.

According to sources, jet fighters and helicopter gunships targeted suspected positions in Lowi Sam, Zoorband, Ser Lara, Enzerai and some other areas, while ground forces used artillery and mortars.

Officials claimed that militants had suffered heavy losses.

Security forces launched the operation in Bajaur on Aug 6. Despite heavy bombardment militants are still holding their positions. The sources said that security forces were yet to enter strongholds of militants.

They said militants clashed with security forces near Khar, the regional headquarters, on Saturday night. Troops came under attack in Sadiqabad, Kerala and Rashakai areas, but they fired back and repulsed the attackers.

The sources said two missiles fired from unknown places landed near a residential area in Sadiqabad. However, they did not cause any damage. A post of the Frontier Corps near Sadiqabad also came under attack.

Meanwhile, residents of Sadiqabad, Bilalabad, Rehmanabad and other localities near Khar have set up peace committees to conduct night patrolling from Sunday. Hundreds of volunteers have joined these committees.

The peace committees’ members have been authorised to target suspected persons after 9pm.—Correspondent