January 7, 2008 / 7:45 AM / in 10 years

Militants attack Pakistani peace workers; 8 dead

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda-linked militants in northwest Pakistan have attacked two offices of a government-sponsored peace movement and killed eight people, the military said on Monday.

The attacks were in South Waziristan on the Afghan border, where a militant leader the government says was behind the Dec. 27 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is based.

"Miscreants fired at peace committee offices in Wana bazaar and Shikai," the military said in a statement, referring to the region’s two main towns.

"Eight members of the committee expired," it said.

South Waziristan and neighbouring North Waziristan, which is also on the Afghan border, are hotbeds of support for the Taliban and al Qaeda. Many militants fled there when U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The government has been struggling to impose its writ in the regions and to expel foreign militants and subdue their Pakistani allies. It set up committees to foster talks among the ethnic Pashtun tribes in the region, some of which support militants.

The Sunday evening attacks came two days after a militant spokesman threatened to launch attacks on military and government targets in revenge for a government offensive against insurgents in the northwestern Swat Valley.

On Monday, a suicide car-bomber attacked a gate of a military camp in Swat, wounding three soldiers, a military official said.

Government forces launched an offensive in the scenic valley in North West Frontier Province in November to clear out militants who had infiltrated from strongholds on the Afghan border.

The military says it has killed more than 300 militants and captured another 430 in the operation.

Militants attacked a paramilitary camp in the Mohmand tribal area on Sunday, wounding two troops, a security official said.

The government said a wanted militant leader based in South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, was behind the killing of Bhutto in a gun and bomb suicide attack in the city of Rawalpindi.

But a spokesman for Mehsud, Maulvi Omar, denied that he was involved.

Omar later gave government forces a Jan. 5 deadline to stop their offensive in Swat.

After it passed, he said militants would attack government targets across the northwest. He also threatened to kill 14 captured paramilitary troops. (Additional reporting and writing by Kamran Haider in ISLAMABAD; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jerry Norton)

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