Villagers kill 14 Taliban in northwest Pakistan

A mob of hundreds of Pakistani villagers seeking revenge for a deadly mosque bombing killed 14 suspected Taliban on Monday in a third day of vigilante violence, the army said.

A spontaneous militia took up arms on Saturday and besieged militant strongholds in Upper Dir district, a day after 38 people were killed in a suicide blast at a mosque in the same area of the northwest.

One local security official said the Taliban, the focus of an intense six-week government operation in nearby Swat valley, were on the run and public sentiment in Upper Dir had turned against them.

"Taliban have lost the local support in the area and are now only firing back to move away," the security official told AFP.

"Taliban are surrounded from both eastern and western sides and are now fleeing the area after leaving their weapons and disguising themselves."

Police officials have said that the weekend clashes left six suspected militants dead, and fighting continued on Monday with 14 more killed.

"Local lashkar set ablaze 13 houses of terrorists and killed three terrorists at Dhok Darra village in retaliation to a suicide attack in a mosque," the army said in a statement Monday, referring to the tribal militia.

The vigilantes also surrounded Shatkas and Mena villages and killed 11 insurgents including a Taliban commander, the statement said, taking the total rebel death toll to 14.

Pakistan's government has in the past encouraged the formation of lashkar militias to boost the official armed forces in their fight against militants.

District police chief Mohammad Ejaz Khan earlier told AFP that more than 200 Taliban were involved in the clashes, while local officials said up to 1,200 villagers carrying small arms and kalashnikovs joined the militia.

Friday's mosque bombing was the latest in a series of attacks on civilian and security targets -- attacks widely seen as retribution by Islamist extremists for Pakistan's blistering offensive in three northwest districts.

Pakistan launched its northwest push after the Taliban advanced to within 100 kilometres 60 miles of Islamabad in early April, violating a deal to put the region's three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace.

The army said Monday 21 "terrorists" including the 14 killed by the lashkar had died in the last 24 hours in the northwest.

Also Monday, Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Kayani visited Swat's main town Mingora, which security forces say they have cleared of militants.

An army statement said Kayani was briefed on post-Taliban reconstruction plans for the area, which officials said last week included the setting-up of armed militias to police the towns and villages.

A young sea turtle is seen on Runduma island, Wakatobi. AFP/File/Adek Berry