ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Shepherds found 13 bullet-riddled bodies in northwestern Pakistan, officials said Sunday, and two local residents identified them as men detained by the military in January.
Two intelligence officials said the bodies discovered near Mandao village in Shaktoi, South Waziristan, were Taliban fighters. A military spokesman declined to comment.
Residents identified the bodies found on Saturday as local villagers and said the incident raises further questions about human rights abuses by Pakistani security forces battling the Taliban insurgents. The Pakistani military has received billions of dollars in foreign funding.
Shaktoi resident Allah Khan told Reuters by telephone that the military arrested 35 people from Mandao in January.
“We contacted army officials here and they said that we will release them soon, but yesterday we found their dead bodies in the wild mountains of Shaktoi,” he said. “Shepherds saw these bodies lying under trees; we village people get these bodies.
“They had been killed with bullets, and different parts were eaten by wild animals,” he said. “Now we fear that the rest of the arrested people will be killed in such a way.”
Residents were able to identify the men through their clothes and some of their faces, he said. He provided a list of names of the dead. “I know these people, they were from my village,” said another Mandao resident, Gul Wali. “Why are our forces killing us in such way?”
Two local intelligence officials disputed the account.
“The bodies are of militants and we are investigating they how they are killed,” one said.
Human rights groups like Amnesty International say the Pakistani military has frequently carried out torture and extrajudicial executions. The military is holding thousands of Pakistanis in secret detention centers, Amnesty said in a 2012 report. Many have been missing for years.
“Investigations into such cases are extremely rare and ineffective even when they do take place,” Amnesty said.
Cases before the Supreme Court forced generals to admit to holding some prisoners in detention centers, but the military has mostly refused to provide details on numbers, identities or locations. The military has denied reports of abuses.
Access to areas where the army is operating are tightly controlled. Foreign journalists are not allowed in the regions bordering Afghanistan without written permission and a military escort.
Around two million Pakistanis have been displaced by fighting between government forces and the Taliban, an Islamist insurgency that wants to overthrow the government and install strict Islamic law. The Taliban are also blamed for widespread torture and killings.
Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Hafiz Wazir in Wana; Reporting by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Mark Heinrich