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Journalists see rocket attack in 'cleared' area of Pakistan

Reporters say they were ordered to take cover in army bunkers after they came under fire at a military base in the town of Ladha,

ISLAMABAD // A tour of the former terrorist stronghold of South Waziristan by Pakistan's army and air force chiefs on Tuesday almost ended in tragedy for accompanying journalists from Islamabad.

The journalists said they were ordered to take cover in army bunkers after they came under rocket fire at a military base in the town of Ladha, shortly after the departure of the military chiefs.

The chiefs had flown in to inaugurate a UAE-funded health project. Nobody was injured in the incident.

The visit was the first by journalists to South Waziristan since the military launched an offensive against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militant group based there in October 2009.

The attack, at around 1.50pm, came about an hour after Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the army chief, had told the journalists South Waziristan was "cleared" and the Taliban were no longer a threat there.

He said the security situation there was "normal", and that it was safe for thousands of residents displaced by the military operation to return to their homes.

Those remarks were made at Makeen, in the neighbouring tribal region of North Waziristan.

However, when journalists arrived at the Ladha camp, a 15-minute trip by helicopter, a Cobra helicopter gunship was hovering overhead, firing missiles at Taliban positions in the neighbouring mountains.

Army officers based at the camp told them that about a dozen rockets had been fired by the militants the previous night.

Shortly after the military chiefs departed, escorted by helicopter gunships, the Taliban fired a rocket that hit a hillside by the camp.

Journalists representing three cable news channels despatched one-line reports by mobile telephone text, which quickly appeared on television screens across Pakistan.

Apparently embarrassed by the reports, the commanding general confronted the journalists, accused them of misrepresenting the situation, and used abusive language, the journalists said.

The military's publicity wing, Inter Services Public Relations, later issued a statement denying the rocket attacks on Ladha had taken place.

It said the military was engaged in an operation against militants in the adjacent area of Shawal.

thussain@thenational.ae

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