Death toll hits 15 in Pakistan sectarian clashes

PARACHINAR, Pakistan Sun Apr 8, 2007 3:30am EDT

Protesters hold a placard as they chant slogans against the clashes between Sunni and shi'ite Muslims in Parachinar during a protest in Peshawar April 7, 2007. The placard reads ''Killing of innocent people in Parachinar be stopped.'' REUTERS/Ali Imam

Protesters hold a placard as they chant slogans against the clashes between Sunni and shi'ite Muslims in Parachinar during a protest in Peshawar April 7, 2007. The placard reads ''Killing of innocent people in Parachinar be stopped.''

Credit: Reuters/Ali Imam

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PARACHINAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Sectarian clashes between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims raged unabated in a remote Pakistani tribal region on Sunday, and the confirmed death toll in three days of fighting rose to 15, officials said on Sunday.

The army used helicopter gunships on Saturday to quell fighting between the two sects in Parachinar, the main town in the Kurram tribal region, near the Afghan border.

The fighting subsided in Parachinar but clashes continued in nearby villages.

"In Parachinar, there is no fighting but the problem is now in rural areas," Syed Kamal Shah, permanent secretary at the interior ministry, told Reuters.

Sahibzada Mohammad Anis, the top administrator of Kurram, said tribal elders were trying to defuse the situation but warned of "military action" in the rural areas if fighting did not stop.

He said the battling tribesmen were using heavy weapons including mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Some reports suggested that up to 30 people had been killed.

Anis said 15 deaths could be confirmed so far, but the toll could be higher. Scores of people had been wounded, he added.

Authorities imposed a curfew and called out the army in Parachinar on Friday hours after clashes erupted in a row over a religious procession.

Sectarian violence has bedeviled Pakistan since the 1980s, and thousands have been killed in tit-for-tat attacks, although the vast majority of Pakistani Sunnis and Shi'ites live in peace.

Shi'ites account for around 15 percent of the 160-million population.

Like the rest of Pakistan, the seven semi-autonomous tribal regions have predominantly Sunni populations, although there is a sizeable Shi'ite presence in Kurram and neighboring Orakzai.

Men in the ethnic-Pashtun tribal lands typically bear arms, and the Taliban and al Qaeda have won support among Sunni Muslims in poorer parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

(Additional Reporting by Kamran Haider)

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