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Pakistan defends attack on school

Rights group demands details

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The military defended its missile strike on an Islamic school, saying yesterday it was necessary to prevent terrorist trainees from escaping. Critics said the government used disproportionate force in the attack, which killed 80 people.

Tribal elders said Monday's raid in the Bajur district near the Afghan border set back peace efforts in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region, and a prominent human rights group demanded an independent inquiry.

Abdul Aziz Khan, head of Bajur's council of tribal chiefs, demanded a guarantee there would be no further attacks, saying, "without it we will not begin talks with the government." Government officials had hoped to forge a deal with the Bajur chiefs similar to a pact targeting militancy signed by tribal chiefs in North Waziristan.

Protests erupted for a third day in Bajur, with 10,000 tribesmen -- including masked militants -- demanding the deaths of Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, and President Bush.

Musharraf's government has been roundly condemned in Pakistan for the attack on the school in the village of Chingai, 2 miles from the poorly demarcated border separating Pakistan from Afghanistan's Kunar Province, where US troops have repeatedly battled Al Qaeda militants.

Pakistan's chief army spokesman, Major General Shaukat Sultan, said the military had no option but to use helicopter gunships against the school, which he said was a front for a militant training camp, because attempts to arrest suspected trainee terrorists could have led to their escape.

New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the Pakistani government to let independent investigators visit the area to determine who carried out the attack, how it was planned and executed, and who was killed.

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