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Missile hits Taliban stronghold

A SUSPECTED United States missile killed seven people in a Taliban stronghold in northwestern Pakistan yesterday, officials said, while a hard-line cleric rattled peace efforts elsewhere by demanding the government launch Islamic courts within two weeks.

The missiles landed in Murghiban village in the South Waziristan tribal region and also wounded three people, two Pakistani intelligence officials said. At least four of the dead were believed to be foreign militants, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

They said drones believed to be used by the US were seen in the air ahead of the strike and that Taliban fighters surrounded the damaged center afterward. The compound was allegedly a militant training facility, the officials said.

Pakistan has condemned the strikes, saying they inflame anti-American sentiment especially when they kill civilians, but many analysts speculate the two countries have a secret deal allowing the attacks.

Muslim-majority Pakistan has also turned to peace talks to try pacifying the insurgency in its northwest.

Last month, Pakistan agreed to implement Islamic law in the Swat Valley, a former tourist haven where militants have gained tremendous sway. The provincial government in northwestern Pakistan made the pledge to Sufi Muhammad, a pro-Taliban cleric. Muhammad said yesterday it did not appear the government was holding up its end of the bargain.

"I'm not seeing any practical steps for the implementation of the peace agreement," the cleric told reporters.

Muhammad set a March 15 deadline for the Islamic courts to start running.


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