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ASIA: Eight killed, 45 injured in NW Pakistan blast

06 Nov 2008 11:28 PM

KHAR, Pakistan, Nov 6 AFP - Eight people were killed and 45 injured today when a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up at a gathering of tribal elders in a Pakistani region known to harbour militants, officials said.

The blast targeted a tribal "lashkar" or army- and government-backed force in Batmalai, some 40km north-east of Khar, the main town in the north-west Bajaur region, local administrator Iqbal Khattak told AFP.

Fazal-i-Rabi, a local police official, added: "Two to three hundred membersof the lashkar were finalising their strategy after demolishing houses of militants when the blast occurred.

"Eight people were killed and 45 were injured in the attack. Around 30 are in a serious condition."

Tribal elder and former lawmaker Shahbuddin Khan added: "The blast was suicide."

Pakistani forces have been engaged in fierce clashes with militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda since a military operation was launched in the semi-autonomous region in August.

The Pakistani military said last month that since the fighting began, some 1,500 rebels and 73 soldiers had died while hundreds more militants were captured.

Pakistani fighter jets bombarded several areas in Bajaur yesterday, killing 15 militants, local administration official Mohammad Jamil said.

Pakistan's tribal belt became a safe haven for hundreds of al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists who fled the US-led toppling of Afghanistan's hardline Taliban regime in late 2001 and have since set up training camps.

Many militants had gathered in Bajaur in recent months after being driven out of other Pakistani tribal regions, especially North and South Waziristan, hundreds of kilometres to the south.

While Pakistani forces have been concentrating on Bajaur, most of a recent spate of suspected US missile attacks on Pakistan have focused on Waziristan.

Pakistan has been accused by the United States and Afghanistan of not doingenough to stop militants crossing the border to attack US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

But Islamabad says its operation in Bajaur is proof that it is committed tocrushing insurgents.

Separately, suspected militants today fired rockets at the airport and blewup the main electricity transmission line in north-west city of Peshawar, where Taliban- and al-Qaeda-linked extremists are also active.

AFP jl=0A