Islamabad : Pro-Taliban militants claimed they had captured 44 paramilitary troopers in Pakistan’s volatile north-western valley of Swat, where a week of fierce fighting has left around 200 people dead, media reports said Friday.
The 44 men from the Frontier Corps surrendered to the militants Thursday morning after they were surrounded in Khwazakhela area, militant commander Liaqat Ali told the Dawn newspaper.
The troops were running out of rations and other supplies, which left them with no option but to give up, he said, adding that they were taken to a compound and fed.
However, the authorities have refuted the claims. “This is not true. There is no reality in it,” a senior paramilitary officer Colonel Shehbaz told the newspaper.
Earlier, the military spokesman claimed that the security forces killed up to 70 rebels Thursday in the same area of Swat, located some 160 km from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) capital Peshawar.
“The insurgents attacked a law enforcement agencies’ post at Khwazakhela around 4:30 this morning and the security forces retaliated with small arms and mortar fire,” military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told DPA.
Although Arshad made no mention of troop losses in the battle, several media reports said at least 11 law enforcers died in the fighting.
The clashes erupted last Friday when Islamabad sent additional troops into the scenic valley to curb a rebellion instigated by Islamic firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlullah.
The week-long clashes, in which the military used helicopter gunships and artillery fire to pound militant positions, have left around 200 people dead, including dozens of troops.
Fazlullah, 32, is demanding enforcement of Taliban-style rule in the region. The authorities believe he has 4,000-5,000 heavily armed men in his militia.
He is being supported by several dozen Al Qaeda militants who fled to the area after US-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001.