35 killed as Pakistani forces battle militants in north-west

35 killed as Pakistani forces battle militants in north-westIslamabad  - Security forces battling an Islamist insurgency in Pakistan's troubled north-west killed 25 militants and lost two soldiers in fierce clashes that also left six civilians dead, media reports said Tuesday.

Fifteen pro-Taliban rebels were killed and several injured when troops backed by helicopter gunships launched an assault in Swat district on Monday, the English-language daily The News reported.

The operation was centred on the Shakardara area of Matta sub-district, a hotbed of militants loyal to the local radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

The gunfights also killed two soldiers and wounded six others, the newspaper said, quoting from a statement released by the military-run Swat media centre.

According to the military, the security personnel exercised restraint as the retreating militants were using civilians as a human shield.

The News said six local residents died in militant violence in the restive mountain valley. Among the casualties were two women whose house was hit by a mortar. It was not clear who fired the stray round.

Swat was a popular tourist destination until last year when Fazlullah's men began waging an armed struggle to enforce Taliban-style laws, prompting the government to send in troops to quell the rebellion.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Air Force jets and army helicopter gunships pounded militants' positions in the Mohmand tribal region near the Afghan border on Monday, killing at least 12 insurgents.

Artillery cover was also provided for ground troops patrolling militant-infested areas in Lakarao and Pandyalai sub-districts.

The News said militants blew up a government high school in Pandyalai the same day. However, no casualties were reported as the school building was empty when it was bombed.

Pakistan's north-western tribal region is believed to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Government troops are fighting the rebels on several fronts amid growing pressure from international forces in Afghanistan to stop infiltration by the militants. (dpa)