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Over 100 Militants, Nine Soldiers Killed In Northwest Pakistan

ISLAMABAD -- More than 100 Islamist militants and nine Pakistani soldiers have been killed in fierce fighting over the last four days in the tribal region of Bajaur, a military spokesman has said.

Bajaur, near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, is a known sanctuary for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

The clashes broke out on August 6 after pro-Taliban militants attacked a security checkpost in Loi Sum, about 12 kilometers west of Khar, the main town of the region.

"Fighting is still continuing and forces backed by helicopter gunships are targeting militants' positions mainly on the mountains. We have reports of over 100 militants dead," said a spokesman for Pakistan's Frontier Corps.

Nine soldiers also died during the fighting, he said.

Residents said Pakistani troops were bombarding the militants' hideouts and positions with mortar and artillery and many villagers had fled to safer places in the region.

The security situation across Pakistan's northwest has deteriorated in recent weeks amid mounting pressure by Western allies on the South Asian nation to stop militants from making crossborder attacks on their troops in Afghanistan.

Violence had subsided after a new coalition government formed following February elections and led by the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto started talks with the militants through tribal elders.

But the lull seems to be over and the militants have stepped up their activities after their top leader Baitullah Mehsud suspended talks in June.