MIRAMSHAH, Jan 13: At least 14 soldiers were killed and 21 injured, most of them critically, when an explosive device hit a military convoy in North Waziristan Agency on Sunday.

The deadly attack took place hours after Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s chief Hakimullah Mehsud had ordered his supporters to abide by a peace agreement reached by the government and the Taliban group in the agency headed by Hafiz Gul Bhadur.

According to officials, the convoy was going to a garrison in Bannu from Razmak when one of its vehicles was hit by the bomb in Dumdail area, some 35km south of Miramshah, the administrative headquarters of North Waziristan Agency.

The convoy was passing an area on the Razmak-Miramshah Road at about 1.30pm. The area has been under curfew for some time. The officials said the death toll could rise as the condition of a number of the injured was critical. The blast destroyed the vehicle and most of the soldiers died on the spot.

An official in the political administration said 14 soldiers had lost their lives and 21 suffered injuries. Critically wounded soldiers were airlifted to the Combined Military Hospital in Bannu.

Security forces cordoned off the area and started a search for assailants.

Residents said helicopter gunships had shelled suspected locations in Dumdail.

Earlier, TTP Hakimullah Mehsud had in a statement called for ending attacks on the military in the agency, apparently in response to an offer for talks made by the Awami National Party.

After the assassination of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s senior minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour in a suicide attack in Peshawar on Dec 22, ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan offered peace talks and asked the TTP and other militant groups to renounce violence before negotiations.

The ANP has announced that it will convene an all-party conference to discuss measures to resolve the issue of militancy.

Hakimullah’s statement was circulated in Miramshah early on Sunday morning. It said: “Mujahideen brothers, the local Taliban and Mujahideen have signed an agreement with the government in North Waziristan and taken some decisions for maintaining peace in the area. Therefore, all Mujahideen groups affiliated with the TTP are ordered to follow the decisions and cooperate with the local Taliban.”

Hakimullah said all Mujahideen fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan were united under the command of Mullah Mohammad Omar and had been cooperating with each other.

According to Reuters, it was unclear if the leaflet was related to rumours of splits in the TTP as it called upon local and foreign fighters to unite because “the enemy is trying to divide and rule us”.

Elders of the Utmanzai tribe backed by Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bhadur had signed the six-point peace deal with the government on Feb 17, 2007.

According to the agreement, tribes will not allow local and foreign militants to use North Waziristan’s territory for attacks in Afghanistan and will be responsible for protecting security forces, government employees and installations in the agency. The government was to withdraw army troops from all checkposts.

But despite the peace deal, security forces have been frequently attacked in the volatile area which forced the Utmanzai tribe and the Gul Bhadur group to take tough measures to salvage the agreement.

Tribal elders and the Taliban recently held a jirga in Angher Kally in Mirali subdivision and raised a lashkar comprising 100 volunteers and empowered it to patrol sensitive areas and stop attacks on security forces and curb incidents of kidnapping for ransom.

AP adds: Military officials confirmed the bombing, but said four soldiers were killed and 11 others wounded. The discrepancy could not immediately be reconciled. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to reporters.

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