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Fri Oct 31 15:31:03 SAST 2014

Grim exchange of bodies after Pakistan army, Taliban clash

Reuters | 09 January, 2012 11:56
Relatives gather around the flag-draped coffin of a Frontier Corps personnel after their funeral prayers in Peshawar January 5, 2012.
Image by: KHURAM PARVEZ / REUTERS

The bodies of 10 Pakistani soldiers and 10 Taliban fighters killed in a clash in a tribal agency in Pakistan's largely lawless northwest last month have been exchanged, sources in the Pakistani military and the Taliban said on Monday.

The clash was the latest flare-up in Orakzai, one of seven tribal areas near Pakistan's porous western border with Afghanistan.

"The Taliban killed them (the 10 troops) and had taken away their bodies. We killed some of their people and were in possession of their bodies," a senior military official, requesting anonymity because he wasn't authorised to speak to the media, told Reuters.

"Now, through negotiation, we have exchanged bodies."

The attack occurred on Dec. 21 at the Maqsood checkpost in Orakzai, said the official, killing 10 on each side.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, gave a similar account.

"We take responsibility for killing the 10 soldiers whose bodies have been recovered from Orakzai", Ehsanullah told Reuters from an undisclosed location.

"This is an exchange of bodies with them, as they killed 10 of our people and we have responded with killing 10 of their men," he said.

Five of the Taliban bodies were given back last week in the Khyber agency and five were handed over on Monday in Orakzai.

The grisly exchange comes just days after the bodies of 15 Pakistani soldiers, captured on Dec. 23 after dozens of Taliban militants stormed a paramilitary fort in the northwestern Tank district, were discovered.

Their bodies, with gunshot wounds and signs of torture, had been found in the Thal area of the northwestern Hangu district on Jan. 5.

Pakistani forces have targeted militants in the northwestern tribal regions on and off for more than four years. The latest offensive started in Orakzai in October.

Formed in 2007, the TTP is an umbrella group of various Pakistani militant factions operating in the tribal areas.

Allied with the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda, it pledged to overthrow the Pakistani government after the military started operations against militant groups.

It is blamed for many of the suicide bombings across the country and has carried out audacious attacks, including one on the Pakistan army headquarters near the capital, Islamabad, in 2009. The United States has labeled the TTP a terrorist group.

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