Islamabad, April 12:

President Pervez Musharraf said today that Pakistani tribesmen had killed around 300 foreign Al Qaeda militants near the Afghan border and admitted that the army had helped the tribal fighters.

The comments by Musharraf come after months of pressure from key ally the United States and other nations with troops in neighbouring Afghanistan to crack down on militants in the lawless tribally-ruled border areas.

“The people of South Waziristan now have risen against the foreigners. They have killed about 300 of them,” military ruler Musharraf told a conference of defence officials from 22 countries.

“They have support from the Pakistan army. They asked for it.” Previously officials have only said that the army had secured parts of South Waziristan after the tribesmen drove out the insurgents themselves, and that the military provided medical aid.

Musharraf said there were indications that tribesmen in other parts of the region were ready to take up arms against the foreign insurgents, many of whom fled Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

“We want a similar activity in North Waziristan and there are indications that this can happen there as well,” he said.

The government has previously said that the formerly Taliban-supporting tribesmen’s efforts vindicate its policy of signing peace deals with the ethnic Pashtun clans of the region, despite criticism from Western allies.

NATO and US officials have said that attacks on their forces had risen since the deals in South Waziristan in 2005 and North Waziristan in 2006.

Fighting broke out in South Waziristan on March 19, sparked by a Taliban commander-turned-government supporter’s demand that Uzbek militants in the area leave or disarm. The tribesmen hoisted white flags, pounded war drums and proclaimed victory earlier this week, saying that the foreigners had been driven out. The military took reporters to the area yesterday and said the same thing.

But the regional army commander said yesterday that Uzbek commander Tahir Yuldashev, who has a a five-million-dollar US bounty on his head and alleged links to Osama Bin Laden, had not been caught.