KOHAT, Pakistan (Reuters) - Sectarian violence between Shi‘ite and Sunni Muslims intensified in a tribal region of northwest Pakistan on Friday, with at least 22 people reportedly killed in gunbattles, a senior official said.
“Dead bodies are lying inside houses and in fields,” said Qalb-e-Hassan, a newly elected provincial legislator from Kohat town.
Fighting overnight was concentrated in three villages of Kohat district of North West Frontier Province.
The tribesmen were armed with semi-automatic weapons, machine guns, mortars and rockets, and the civil authorities have asked for the army to help restore order.
“I have reports that at least 22 people were killed in fighting overnight,” said Kamran Zeb, a senior administrator in Kohat, though he added it was too unsafe to verify how many people have been killed.
The latest clashes, between men from the Mishti and Kachai tribes, brought the toll to more than 50 in an outbreak of sectarian violence that began last week.
Some media reports put the toll higher.
At least six people were killed on Thursday in a suspected militant attack on a ambulance in Kohat’s neighboring Kurram tribal region, which also has a long history of violence between Shi‘ite and Sunni Muslims.
While Kohat is plagued with sectarian unrest, al Qaeda-linked militants have unleashed a wave of violence on the rest of Pakistan. Nearly 600 people have been killed since the start of the year, many of them victims of suicide attacks.
Pakistani security forces are battling militants in several parts of NWFP, including Kohat, and in seven semi-autonomous tribal regions on the border with Afghanistan.
While ordinary Sunni and Shi‘ite Pakistanis live together peacefully in most parts of the country, radicals from the two sects have inflicted a bloody toll in tit-for-tat assassinations and bomb attacks in recent years.
Reporting by Mohammad Hashim; Writing by Augustine Anthony; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Alex Richardson