US diplomat visits Pakistan amid new violence

A top U.S. diplomat met with Pakistan’s prime minister Monday as Pakistani security forces used artillery and fighter jets to kill seven suspected insurgents in the northwest tribal region, officials said.

By HABIB KHAN, Associated Press Writer

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher‘s visit comes amid strains between the two nations over suspected American missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistani territory. Television footage showed him meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Islamabad. He also was expected to hold talks with President Asif Ali Zardari.

In this photo released by Pakistan Press Information Department, ... 
In this photo released by Pakistan Press Information Department, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, center, talks with Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti, right, during a meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008. Boucher arrived in Pakistan for talks with leaders of a country vital to Western security concerns. Boucher’s trip comes amid strains between Islamabad and Washington over suspected American missile attacks targeting militants inside Pakistan.(AP Photo/Pakistan Press Information Department, HO)

Pakistan has carried out its own offensives against insurgents in the northwest, which borders Afghanistan. Overnight, three suspected militants were killed by artillery fire in Bajur, a tribal region where the military has been battling insurgents since early August, government official Jamil Khan said.

Four more suspected insurgents were killed in airstrikes Monday morning, Khan said.

The military said nearly a month ago that it had killed more than 1,000 suspected militants in Bajur, but has not announced a new death toll since then. Officials also have not estimated civilian deaths, though Bajur residents have reported that many have been killed.

In the northwest’s Swat Valley, the army media center raised the death toll from clashes the previous day to 25 suspected militants. The bombs hit an ammunition dump in the Barthana area, causing extensive damage.

The army center said it had no reports on civilian casualties there. But Anwer Ali, a Barthana resident, told The Associated Press in a phone interview the bombing by fighter jets had hit a house, killing a woman and two of her children.

Their bodies were recovered by villagers after the bombing stopped, Ali said.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor confirmed that Boucher was in Islamabad but would not provide details of his schedule other than to say he would meet a range of government and civil society leaders.

On Sunday, Boucher visited Peshawar, the main northwest city.

There, North West Frontier Province Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti told Boucher that the provincial government wants to “resolve all political problems through peaceful dialogue, but there wouldn’t be any compromise on maintaining the writ of the government,” a statement from Hoti’s office said.

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