Wed, 19 Jun 2019

Three people were killed and at least 10 others wounded during violence close to a protest site in a Pakistani northwestern tribal district, the military and eyewitnesses say.

Details of the May 26 incident in North Waziristan district remain murky.

Witnesses told RFE/RL that at least 20 people, including a lawmaker, were injured after security forces "opened fire" on peaceful protesters seeking to join a protest against what they called the authorities' heavy-handed methods.

However, the military said that a group led by two members of parliament attacked a security post, wounding five soldiers. It said troops responded to "direct firing" on the post, killing three attackers and wounding 10 others.

A curfew was imposed in the area where the violence took place.

Residents of Datta Khel, a small town in North Waziristan, launched a sit-in late on May 25, accusing security forces of "persecuting" and "torturing" civilians during a recent search operation targeting suspected militants.

Eyewitnesses said that dozens of tribal elders and leaders of the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM) were on their way to the sit-in on the morning of May 26 when troops stopped them at a checkpoint and prevented them from reaching the protest site.

As more protesters arrived at the area, the "security forces opened fire at them," according to the witnesses.

Mohsin Dawar, a member of the lower house of parliament, was among the protesters and told RFE/RL by phone that he was "slightly hurt."

Another National Assembly member, Ali Wazir, was taken to an "unknown location" by security forces along with a tribal elder identified as Gul Alam, residents said.

In a statement, the military said that a group led by Javed and Wazir assaulted the Kharqamar checkpost, adding that "they wanted to exert pressure" for the release of a "suspected terrorists' facilitator" who had been arrested.

Troops manning the post "exercised maximum restraint in the face of provocation and direct firing on the post," it said, adding that five soldiers were injured.

The military said that three attackers also lost their lives in the shooting while the 10 others who sustained injuries were evacuated to an army hospital for treatment.

Wazir was arrested along with eight other people and Javed "is at-large after inciting the crowd," the statement said.

The two lawmakers represent the PTM, which has organized protests across Pakistan since the beginning of 2018 to denounce what it says are extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other human rights abuses in the tribal regions.

Pakistan's government and military have repeatedly said they were taking steps to address the protesters' demands.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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