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2 soldiers, 2 policemen killed in Pakistan attacks

ISLAMABAD -- A bomb killed at least two Pakistani soldiers in the country's northwestern tribal district where the army is carrying out a major offensive against Taliban militants, officials said.

The incident occurred on Thursday evening near the border with Afghanistan just northwest of Miranshah — the main town of North Waziristan tribal region — a statement from the military said.

“Two soldiers embraced shahadat (martyrdom) Thursday evening in an improvised explosive device blast in the Ghulam Khan area,” the statement said, issued late Thursday.

Ghulam Khan is 20 kilometers northwest of Miranshah.

Elsewhere, two gunmen riding a motorbike on Friday opened fire on two police men on security duty on the outskirts of southwestern city of Quetta, the capital of oil and gas-rich Baluchistan province, killing both of them, police said.

“One of the policemen died on the spot while the second succumbed to injuries in hospital,” a local senior police official Imran Qureshi told AFP.

Pakistan began the offensive against militants in mid-June following a brazen insurgent attack on Karachi airport that left dozens dead and a peace process with the Pakistani Taliban in tatters.

North Waziristan had become a major base for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which rose up against the state in 2007, while the United States had long called for action in the area against militant groups targeting Nato forces in Afghanistan.

More than 500 militants and 27 soldiers have been killed in the assault so far, according to the military, though their death toll for insurgents cannot be independently confirmed.

According to five witnesses AFP spoke to about one air strike on June 16, 37 civilians including 20 women and 10 children were killed — contradicting the military's claim of “35 terrorist” deaths in the action.

In addition, more than 800,000 people have been forced to flee from North Waziristan by the assault, with most ending up in in the nearby town of Bannu where they either live in government-run camps or pay high rents for private accommodation.

The rugged mountainous tribal area has for years been a hideout for Islamist militants of all stripes — including al-Qaida and the homegrown TTP as well as foreign fighters including Uzbeks and Uighurs.

However, there are fears that many top militants have fled, including fighters from the feared Haqqani network which is blamed for numerous bloody attacks in Afghanistan.

Resource-rich Baluchistan, where the attack on the police happened, is home to a long-running separatist conflict that was revived in 2004, with nationalists seeking to stop what they see as the exploitation of the region's natural resources and alleged rights abuses.

The idea of giving greater autonomy to the province, the size of Italy but with only nine million inhabitants, is highly sensitive in a country still scarred by the independence in 1971 of its eastern portion, now Bangladesh.

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