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Rebels hand over bodies of 17 Pakistani soldiers


Islamabad : Islamist militants Sunday handed over the bodies of 17 Pakistani soldiers they killed in a weekend attack on a tribal council in the troubled Hangu district in the northwest, officials said.

Heavily armed rebels holding positions on hilltops ambushed a convoy of Frontier Constabulary (FC) paramilitary forces in the Zargari area Saturday afternoon killing 17 troops. Ensuing fighting also left one militant and four civilians dead.

“The bullet-riddled bodies were retrieved after a jirga (tribal council) held successful negotiations with the militant leaders this morning,” a security officer said.

According to a media report, at least eight FC personnel died on the spot while their wounded colleagues were executed by a firing squad of the insurgents.

But one critically injured soldier who was left for dead managed to reach his camp after the militants left the site, the Dawn News television channel said.

Uneasy calm prevailed in the Hangu district where regular troops backed by armoured vehicles patrolled the streets as helicopter gunships carried out aerial surveillance. Authorities also imposed curfew in the area.

The situation in Hangu, some 100 km south of Peshawar, turned violent earlier this week when law enforcers seized seven militants, including a confidant of top Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.

The arrests triggered the siege of a police station by hundreds of militants who retreated early Thursday but took at least 27 government security personnel hostage, threatening to execute them if their comrades were not released.

The fate of the hostages remained unclear after the deadline given by the rebels lapsed Saturday afternoon.

Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan and the adjoining North-West Frontier Province lately saw a lull in militancy after the new government initiated peace talks with the insurgents upon coming into power in March.

However, there was resurgence of violence when the authorities attempted to establish their writ in areas where militants threatened barbers and owners of music stores as part of their “anti-vice” campaign.