Sunni and Shiite Muslims exchanged gunfire yesterday in northwestern Pakistan villages, where a week of sectarian violence has left at least 49 people dead and another 115 wounded, an official said.
However, other reports suggested a much higher death toll. A local lawmaker said it was likely the worst ever sectarian fighting to hit the Kurram tribal agency, and that nearly 100 people may have died so far.
Suspected Sunni Muslim tribesmen raided a Shiite Muslim village near the Afghan border on Wednesday, killing five people.
Sectarian violence has bedeviled Pakistan since the 1980s but the latest clashes have erupted in tribal lands on the Afghan border where security forces are already battling al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants and hunting for their leaders.
The army shelled positions of the rival factions late on Wednesday in an effort to quell fighting after gunmen raided Chardiwar village in the Kurram tribal region, a government official said.
"Our forces are intervening wherever we have reports of clashes," the area's top government administrator, Sahibzada Mohammad Anis, said yesterday.
He said gunmen raided Chardiwar on Wednesday but he had no details about casualties. Speaking before the village raid, he said at least 35 people had been killed in the week's violence.
Another government official, who declined to be identified, said five villagers were killed in Chardiwar, six wounded and several houses burnt.
The clashes erupted late last week after an exchange of insults during a religious procession in Parachinar, the region's main town. A curfew was imposed last Friday but has failed to stop the violence.
Most of the ethnic Pashtun tribesmen in Kurram are Shiite, although most Pashtuns, who inhabit both sides of the rugged Afghan-Pakistan frontier, are Sunni.
Shiites account for about 15 percent of Pakistan's 160 million people.
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