Sun, Jul 17, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Pakistani tribesmen mourn militants

AFP , MIRANSHAH, PAKISTAN

Thousands of Pakistani tribesmen gathered yesterday for the funerals of 24 suspected militants killed by US forces on the rugged Afghan border.

The fiercely independent tribesmen in the semi-autonomous area, where Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his top aides are thought to be hiding, described the dead as "martyrs."

"These people are mujahedin [holy warriors] and they are martyrs," a prayer leader told thousands of tribesmen in Mir Ali village who gathered for the rites.

"We will not allow any foreigner [militant] in our area, but we will keep on helping mujahedin," he said.

The bodies were found on Friday and must be buried within 24 hours in accordance with Muslim tradition. Witnesses said funerals took place at various sites in North Waziristan and South Waziristan.

The men were killed when US forces hunting Taliban remnants in Afghanistan returned fire after an attack on their base in the south-eastern province of Paktika, a known troublespot, on Thursday.

The US military has said only that its troops "hit the target", giving no assessment of casualties or damage.

A Pakistani spokesman has said there will be an investigation into whether troops from the 18,000-strong US-led coalition in Afghanistan had violated Pakistani airspace or land borders.

Afghanistan frequently accuses Pakistan of failing to crack down on extremists on its side of the border. Islamabad strongly denies the charge.

Fighters from the ousted Taliban regime have stepped up attacks in the south and east of Afghanistan in recent months ahead of landmark parliamentary elections in September. More than 600 people and around 50 US soldiers have died in the violence since the beginning of this year.

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