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Pakistani helicopters kill nine militants; bomb claims 3 people Taleban says govt must embrace Islamic law

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 22, (Agencies): Pakistani helicopter gunships targeted a militant training facility in the country’s northwest on Saturday, killing nine insurgents in the latest violence to disrupt troubled peace negotiations, according to police and security officials. The strikes came as a spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban rejected a government demand that the militant movement halt attacks, saying the government should be first announce a cease-fire.

The military launched Saturday morning’s strikes after confirming reports about the presence of militants at a compound in the village of Thal in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, two security officials and a local police officer said. They said the identity of the slain men was not immediately known and agents were trying to get details. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media. It was the third such strike in recent days. On Wednesday and Thursday, officials said, Pakistani aircraft killed 20 suspected militants in the country’s troubled North Waziristan and Khyber tribal regions.

The strikes follow a breakdown in negotiations between the government and the Pakistan Taleban earlier this week. Meanwhile, a roadside bomb targeting a local leader of a nationalist party in northwest Pakistan killed three people and wounded two others Saturday, police said. The incident took place in Buner district in the troubled northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, close to Swat Valley where Taleban insurgents shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in the head.

Police said the remote-controlled bomb hit the vehicle of Adalat Khan, a local leader of nationalist Qaumi Watan Party, killing him along with two associates. “Adalat Khan and his two associates have been killed. Two others in the car were critically injured,” Asif Iqbal, a senior police official told AFP. No militant group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but a local intelligence official told AFP that Khan had supported an Anti-Taleban village militia in 2009. The head of that militia was later killed in a suicide attack in November 2012.

The Pakistani Taleban told the government there was no chance of peace in the country unless Pakistan changed its political and legal system and officially embrace Islamic law. The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wants to find a negotiated settlement to years of fighting with the militants but talks broke down this month after a string of attacks.

In a rare face-to-face meeting with journalists on Friday in an undisclosed location in Waziristan, a lawless region on the Afghan border, main Taleban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said there was still hope negotiations might resume. “Despite recent bombings in North Waziristan and killing of our 74 men by the security forces during the peace talks, we are still serious about the talks,” he said, wearing an AK- 47 bandolier across his chest.

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