Militants slash Pakistan troops' throats

Dozens of Pakistani soldiers have been found with their throats slashed after three days of fierce fighting with Islamic militants near the Afghan border.

The clashes have been the deadliest since the country threw its support behind the US-led war on terrorism in 2001 with a total of around 200 dead on both sides.

The dead soldiers were found in deserted areas of North Waziristan after reports yesterday that 50 went missing in attacks by Taliban and al Qaida fighters.

The fighting comes as President Musharraf tries to secure another term, vowing to shore up Pakistan's effort against Islamic extremism.

But his troops are suffering mounting losses as they try to re-assert authority in a swath of mountainous territory where warlords backing the militants have seized control.

Battles in North Waziristan have killed 150 fighters and 45 soldiers since Saturday, an army statement said.

Another 15 troops are missing, it added.

Security forces have rejected a ceasefire proposed by the militants and will "continue punitive action till complete peace is restored" in the area, it said.

Pakistan struck a controversial ceasefire deal with militants in North Waziristan last year. The US criticised the pact, claiming it gave a safe haven for al Qaida and provided a rear base for Taliban guerrillas fighting Nato troops in Afghanistan.

In July, Pakistan's army redeployed soldiers at key checkpoints in the region, sparking fresh hostilities.

A local intelligence official said the latest fighting started on Saturday when a roadside bombing killed one paramilitary soldier and wounded 12 travelling in a truck.

When five vehicles of army troops went to the bomb site on Sunday to retrieve the truck, about 300 militants ambushed them, killing 22 troops and wounding 11. Others were captured alive.

Villagers in Isu Khel and nearby Melagan said they had spotted soldiers bodies in deserted areas and the side of the road linking Mir Ali with Miran Shah.

Many of the victims had their throats cut, they said.