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Border battle with Afghans

Kabul, May 13 (Reuters): Thousands of civilians joined Afghan forces to fight Pakistani troops who today took some areas in a border region, sparking the worst clash in decades between the two neighbours, an Afghan spokesman said.

Pakistan said up to seven Afghan troops were killed after they opened fire on Pakistani positions.

Afghan defence ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said local tribesmen had shot down a Pakistani helicopter at the site of the clash in Zazai district of southeastern Paktika province.

Azimi said Pakistani forces had penetrated several kilometres in some parts of a strategic area on the Afghan side of the Durand Line, which divides the two countries.

“As soon as people heard that such an incident had happened, thousands of people started arriving at the battle front,” he told a news conference in Kabul.

He said tens of thousands of tribesmen had offered to join government ranks, but Kabul had stopped them and was keen to find a diplomatic solution to the clash.

Azimi said the only two fatalities on the Afghan side were two schoolchildren. Two police officers were wounded.

He said the clash, which lasted for several hours, was a provocative act by the Pakistani government designed to deflect attention from the violence that has erupted at home over the suspension of the country’s chief justice.

In Pakistan, military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said up to seven Afghan troops were killed in a border clash with Pakistani forces. Arshad said Afghan troops opened “unprovoked firing” on five or six border posts in the Kurram tribal region in northwest Pakistan. Pakistani paramilitary forces retaliated, he said.

“We have reports six to seven of their troops have been killed. Three of our soldiers have been wounded,” Arshad said.

Relations between the neighbours have deteriorated sharply over the past 18 months, largely over Afghan complaints that Pakistan is not doing enough to stop Taliban insurgents operating from the Pakistani side of the disputed border.

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