Relatives question Pakistan army on militant killings

Pakistani residents look at the bodies of militants killed in a military operation in Lower Dir on July 6, 2010 The security forces said the men were killed in a clash

Relatives of 23 suspected militants killed by Pakistani forces in the north-west on Tuesday said they were in custody at the time of their death.

Elders in Dir district said most of the suspects were handed over to the armed forces by local village councils.

The military said the men were killed in a shoot-out during a search operation in the Maidan area of Dir.

The killings came a day after four suicide bombers attacked a military camp in Timergara town.

One soldier was killed in the attack.

The Pakistani military has been often accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings of Taliban suspects to avenge militant attacks on military targets.

The military denies this charge.

The army launched an operation in Swat, Dir and some neighbouring areas last summer, forcing more than two million people to flee the region.

Months later, the areas were declared "clear" and the refugees started to return to their homes.

But sporadic attacks by suspected Taliban militants have continued.

'In detention'

On Tuesday, the military in Dir notified the families of 23 suspects that they needed to collect their bodies from a local hospital.

Map

They said that the men had been killed in a search operation.

"The clashes took place in Kalpani and Upper Maidan areas," said Brigadier Nadim Mirza, the top commander of operations in Maidan.

But relatives told the BBC that nearly all the slain suspects had been in detention at the main paramilitary base in Timergara.

"Most of them were school boys. Some got inspired by the Taliban and joined their training camps in Swat but were weaned away by their parents before they could get into real fighting," Saeed Gul, a local elder and former parliamentarian told the BBC.

"Others were either close relatives of known militants, or had given shelter to militants at some time out of fear or favour."

One of the men who was killed had stopped attending a Taliban training camp in Swat due because of severe epilepsy, according to a Maidan resident who knew the family well.

Another victim was allegedly arrested by the security forces on 9 November last year - and news of it was conveyed by a Dir-based military spokesman to the media on the same day.

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