Pakistan army chief apologises for civilian deaths
ISLAMABAD, April 17 (Reuters) - Pakistan's army chief on Saturday apologised to a tribe for civilian casualties suffered in a military air strike in the northwest of the country.
Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's apology may have been partly aimed at winning the sympathies of Pashtun tribes, whose support is vital for U.S. ally Pakistan as it presses ahead with offensives against al Qaeda-backed Taliban militants.
Residents and local government officials said 63 civilians were killed in the attack on suspected Taliban militants on the remote village of Saravilla on April 10.
The military initially denied civilians died. Military officials later said the strikes killed 30 militants and then another assault killed up to 20 civilians who gathered afterwards at the site and were mistaken for Taliban fighters.
Kayani apologised to the Kokikhel, a pro-government tribe, over the "loss of precious and innocent civilian lives".
"The Chief of Army Staff stated that he has ordered measures to avoid re-occurrence of such incidents in future," the military said in a statement.
The Kokikhel tribe resisted attempts by the Taliban to extend their influence to Saravilla, something rare in a region where the militants have executed people who stand up to them. Many members of the tribe are serving in Pakistan's military.
Pakistan can't afford to anger civilians in the ethnic Pashtun tribal northwest, where it needs more intelligence and cooperation on the ground to fight the Taliban.
Militants operate from sanctuaries in the areas where the government traditionally has little authority. (Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Bill Tarrant) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)
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