updated 8/31/2007 2:26:34 AM ET 2007-08-31T06:26:34

More than 120 Pakistani soldiers seized by Islamic militants near the Afghan border soon will be released after the intervention of local tribal elders, an official said Friday.

However, a militant leader said nearly 300 soldiers were being held, a claim that could not be independently verified, and that there had been no decision on whether to release them.

The troops were traveling in a 16-vehicle convoy providing security for trucks hauling food Thursday in the South Waziristan tribal area when bad weather forced them to stop and set up camp, a security official said on condition of anonymity because of department policy.

The soldiers — who were traveling between Wana, the main town in South Waziristan and Ladha, another town in the region — were surrounded by militants who believed they were conducting a military operation.

Previous incidents
The incident came two days after militants freed 18 soldiers and a Pakistani government official who were kidnapped in the region earlier this month. It also occurred amid rising violence in the country, including a militant attack on a military checkpoint before dawn Friday that killed two soldiers.

No fighting occurred in the capture of the soldiers, said a senior army officer who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Tribal elders have intervened at the request of Pakistani authorities to try to free the soldiers, the security official said. “This misunderstanding has been removed,” the official told The Associated Press. “The missing soldiers have been traced and they are safe, and would return to their base soon.”

A pro-Taliban militant leader whose men seized the soldiers claimed far more troops were involved than authorities had reported.

“About 300 soldiers were present in our areas. We captured them, snatched their weapons and later shifted them to different places,” the militant said in a telephone call to the AP.

The militant, who refused to give his name and spoke from an undisclosed location by mobile phone, confirmed that elders had reached out. “We have taken no decision to free the soldiers,” said the militant, whose voice was recognized by an AP reporter.

Military checkpoint attacked
Meanwhile, dozens of Islamic militants attacked a military checkpoint in northwestern Pakistan before dawn Friday, killing at least two soldiers and wounding six others, police said.

The attack happened in Gul Bagh, a village in the Swat valley, about 150 miles northeast of Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, said Mohammed Hafeez, the region’s police chief.

As the injured and dead were being transported to a hospital, a car bomb went off near a police vehicle escorting the ambulances, but it was not clear whether there were any casualties from the blast, he said.

Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the war on terror. Violence blamed on Islamic militants has spiked in recent weeks in northwestern Pakistan, including in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

The rising violence also comes amid increased U.S. pressure on Pakistan’s Washington-backed leader, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to do more to crack down on militants near the frontier, where a recent U.S. intelligence report suggested al-Qaida may be regrouping.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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