Assailants fired rockets at a military post in a tribal region in northwestern Pakistan, sparking a gunbattle between suspected militants and soldiers that left at least one tribesman dead and three children injured, an official and a local resident said Saturday. At least 43 people have died in an upsurge of violence that began last week in the North Waziristan tribal region, which borders Afghanistan.
Several rockets were fired around midnight Friday at the post in Sarbandki, a village in North Waziristan, the intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Soldiers returned fire, sparking an hours-long battle with the unknown number of assailants, the official said.
The exchange of fire continued before dawn Saturday, with rockets and artillery shells hitting around 10 houses in the village. A 45-year-old man was killed and three children were injured, said Sarbandki resident Dost Mohammed. It was not immediately clear whether Pakistani security forces or suspected militants were responsible for the man's death.
More than 1,000 people from Sarbandki and two nearby villages staged a protest against the latest killing, and blocked a main road linking Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, and Bannu, a city in the east. The protesters demanded authorities remove the security post in Sarbandki, Mohammed said.
Mohammed said villagers blame security forces for firing the rockets and artillery shells that landed in the village, but his claims could not be verified. On Tuesday, seven soldiers were killed in another rocket attack on the same mountaintop post in Sarbandki, while an army counterassault killed 14 suspected militants.
Tension has been high in the region since last Saturday, when militants attacked a military post with rockets, killing eight soldiers. The attack came about one hour after an explosion at a local cleric's home near the Afghan border left eight dead. Tribal elders blamed U.S. military for the assault, and Pakistan lodged a protest over the incident with the U.S.-led coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Security forces blame Islamic militants for attacks against security forces in North Waziristan, which is believed to host a number of al-Qaida and Taliban extremists and sympathizers, reports the AP. N.U.