Gunmen fire at officials on Pakistan border

Americans, Pakistanis and Afghans were meeting near Afghan border

2 soldiers killed

May 15, 2007|By Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King | Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Gunmen opened fire yesterday on U.S., Pakistani and Afghan officials meeting near the volatile Afghanistan- Pakistan frontier, killing an American soldier and a Pakistani soldier, and wounding several others, officials said.

The fighting, about a mile inside Pakistani territory, coincided with continuing civil strife over President Pervez Musharraf's efforts to sideline the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, a struggle that threatens the general's grip on power.

Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, has been virtually shut down by the unrest, which has left more than 40 people dead in recent days. Shops were closed and most public transportation halted as the opposition called for a general strike. Paramilitary police were given shoot-to-kill orders targeting anyone involved in street violence.

In Islamabad, opposition factions disrupted a session of parliament, shouting in reference to Musharraf: "The general is a killer."

Adding to political tensions, a Supreme Court official was shot dead by gunmen before dawn yesterday in his home in Islamabad, police and his family said.

Lawyers for the suspended chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, said the court official who was killed, Syed Hamid Raza, would have been an important witness in the legal battle over Chaudhry's status.

Chaudhry is at the center of a two-month-old confrontation between Musharraf and opposition forces. The chief justice is considered a potential obstacle to the president's plans to have himself re-elected by lawmakers this year.

Police said Raza apparently was killed during an attempted robbery, but his family suggested that the motive for the shooting was political.

"You should have protected him, and now my children need protection as well," Raza's wife, Shabana, told Reuters, addressing Pakistani authorities. She said she did not think he was killed by would-be robbers.

Chaudhry's case is being heard by a panel of judges, but the proceedings have been put on hold.

The standoff over Chaudhry poses the most serious challenge to Musharraf's rule since he took power in a 1999 military coup.

The border violence, the worst in years, broke out as a convoy was carrying military officials from a meeting in Teri Mangal, Pakistan, close to the frontier. In addition to the fatalities, three U.S. soldiers, four Pakistani troops and an Afghan interpreter were reported wounded.

Pakistani and Afghani officials said they were investigating the incident, which occurred a day after Afghan and Pakistani troops exchanged fire across the frontier, killing at least two Afghans. Afghan officials put the toll at more than a dozen.

The talks were aimed at easing tensions along the border, a lawless tribal area that U.S. intelligence officials say Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have turned into a staging ground for attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan.

The NATO forces in Afghanistan said in statement that the delegation was "ambushed by unknown assailants."

Afghanistan condemned the border strife, calling it an "invasion" by Pakistani forces. One report, denied by Pakistani officials, said a gunman disguised as a Pakistani soldier set off yesterday's firefight.

Authorities said the attack on the U.S.-Afghan convoy in the Kurrum tribal region began after a four-hour meeting held to discuss border violence.

Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King write for the Los Angeles Times.

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