updated 3/3/2004 11:52:28 AM ET 2004-03-03T16:52:28

Pakistani authorities detained at least 15 tribal leaders Wednesday in a remote border region near Afghanistan for failing to turn over suspected al-Qaida fugitives, an official said.

The Ahmadzai Wazir tribe leaders had agreed to help trace foreigners suspected of terrorism but reneged on the deal, said Rahmatullah Wazir, a senior government official in Wana, the main town in Pakistan’s strategic South Waziristan tribal region.

Authorities suspect that some members of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe have been sheltering al-Qaida fugitives.

“We have detained these people because they kept promising but did not come with practical help in efforts aimed at arresting some terrorists and their local supporters,” Wazir said.

The military has stepped up security in the country’s tribal regions since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, amid suspicions that Taliban and al-Qaida fugitives, possibly including Osama bin Laden, are hiding there.

Pakistan, U.S. to coordinate hunt
Also Wednesday, Pakistan promised coordinated terror sweeps with U.S. forces along its mountainous Afghan border — but remained adamant that it, not the United States, would hunt terror suspects on its side of the frontier.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan rejected U.S. media reports that Pakistan was about to compromise on its long-standing refusal to allow Americans into rugged tribal regions bordering Afghanistan to search for al-Qaida and Taliban.

Fugitives from the two groups — possibly including Osama bin Laden — are thought to be hiding in the mountains spanning the border.

“There is no possibility for joint operations” in Pakistan, Khan told reporters in Islamabad, the capital.

Pakistani troops have conducted four operations to capture foreign terrorists and the tribesmen sheltering them near Wana, about 190 miles west of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

Wednesday’s arrests came three days after authorities imposed a fine of $95,000 on the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe for failing to stop rocket attacks from their land against troops deployed to hunt down suspected terrorists. The sum is enormous in this impoverished region, where most people live on less than a dollar a day.

Authorities can punish the tribe under a custom known as collective responsibility. Under these rules, an entire tribe is responsible for any crime committed by one of its members.

The army’s actions have angered many tribesmen — who share ethnic and cultural ties with Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime and often target the army in the region.

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