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Armed Pakistani tribesmen talk with soldiers after the 17 July incident near the Afghan border
18 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Pakistani military suggested today that a group of militants killed in a firefight near the Afghan border yesterday were Kazakh nationals, while a Kazakh diplomatic source insisted it is too early to be certain that they were Kazakh citizens.
Pakistani military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan announced the Kazakh connection in a statement today in Islamabad to AFP.
But a spokesman for the Kazakh Embassy in Islamabad, Yernur Tuyaqbaev, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service today that it is too early to be certain whether or not those killed are Kazakh nationals.
"I think it is too early to refer to those arrested suspects as Kazakh citizens. This information has not been checked, it has not been proven," Tuyaqbaev said. "We can talk of them as Kazakh citizens only after these reports have been proven. So far, they have found only passports, so it is too early to say."
Tuyaqbaev added: "Even local official sources contradict each other. One source says Kazakh passports were recovered from killed militants, another source says they were taken from those who were captured. We have sent an official inquiry to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. Only after [their answer] can we talk about the incident. We know cases when Pakistani sources use unconfirmed reports."
The Pakistani troops surrounded the group near Miranshah, the central town of the North Waziristan tribal region. The military also said arms and ammunition were found in the militants' hideouts.
Shortly after the operation was completed, Pakistani military spokesman Sultan said that four Kazakh passports and other documents were found among those killed.
"Four passports have been recovered," Sultan said. "They are from Kazakhstan and those passports do tally with the people who have either been killed or apprehended. Most of those people are believed to be from Kazakhstan or from some other countries of the same region."
Sultan did not give a detailed explanation of why he now believes all the militants were Kazakh citizens.
Pakistani officials said troops surrounded the militants in two houses in Miranshah before dawn yesterday. When the militants refused to surrender and opened fire, the soldiers fired back.
"When the [Pakistan security] troops challenged them, the militants, as well as the women, fired back at the troops and also lobbed grenades," Sultan said. "This resulted in the 'shahadat' [martyrdom] of one soldier. In the ensuing gun battle, these militants were killed and [a] few others were injured. They were overpowered by the troops."
He also said several women and teenagers were involved in the fighting.
"There were a total of 17 militants who have been killed, and four, they have been apprehended who are in injured condition," Sultan said. "That includes [a] few women as well as a few young people and they were all, mostly the women as well as the young, they were also taking part in the fighting as well as throwing of grenades."
The Pakistan military said the militants used some of the women as shields as they tried to escape. It also said that arms and ammunition, detonators, and explosive materials were found in the militants’ hideouts.
Sixteen local residents who are believed to have helped the suspected militants have reportedly been arrested.
Some 70,000 Pakistani troops are deployed in the tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials believe many foreign fighters, including Arabs, Chechens, and Central Asians, are hiding in the South Waziristan region. In the past two years, Pakistan has been conducting operations against the militants, who are said to have ties with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
Hundreds of rebels and also many Pakistani soldiers have been killed during those clashes.
A spokesman for the Kazakh Embassy in Islamabad told the Kazakhstan-Today news agency that the embassy has sent an official team of inquiry to Pakistan's Foreign Ministry to establish the identities of the 17 alleged Kazakhs.
The embassy's Tuyakbaev previously noted that no Kazakh citizens are registered as living in North Waziristan at the moment, according to official data.
(with additional reporting by AFP/Reuters/Kazakhstan-Today)