updated 1/7/2008 4:48:28 AM ET 2008-01-07T09:48:28

Suspected Islamic militants fatally shot eight tribal leaders involved in efforts to broker a cease-fire between security forces and insurgents in northwestern Pakistan, authorities said Monday.

The men were killed in separate attacks late Sunday and early Monday in South Waziristan, a mountainous region close to Afghanistan where al-Qaida and Taliban militants are known to operate, according to a security official and a military statement.

Gunmen killed three of the men at a market in Wana, the region's main town, while the other five were shot to death in attacks at their homes in a town north of Wana, the official said. He did not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The men were scheduled to meet on Monday in Wana to discuss ongoing efforts to negotiate peace between Pakistani forces and the militants, the official said. The government is encouraging moderate tribal elders to broker a cease-fire in the region, but there has been little sign of success.

The Pakistan-Afghanistan border area has long been considered a likely hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and the United States has pressured the government of President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on militants operating in the area.

On Sunday, Pakistan reiterated that it will not let American forces hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban militants on its soil, after a report in The New York Times said the Bush administration was considering expanding U.S. military and intelligence operations into Pakistan's tribal regions.

The Pakistani government also has blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a South Waziristan-based militant leader with links to al-Qaida, in the Dec. 27 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud has reportedly denied involvement, and many Bhutto backers accuse elements within the government of playing a role in her killing.

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