May 27 (UPI) -- At least three people were killed and 15 were injured Sunday when clashes between Pakistani military troops and Pashtun activists broke out during a sit-in protest near the Afghanistan border.
The Pakistan Armed Forces said a checkpoint in North Waziristan was attacked by local rights group Pashtun Tahafuz Movement members including National Assemblymen Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir.
"Troops at the check post exercised maximum restraint in the face of provocation and direct firing on the post," the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement. "Due to firing of the group, five army soldiers got injured."
The injured were moved to a local army hospital while Wazir and eight others were arrested, ISPR said.
The military blamed the attack on the PTM for attempting to "exert pressure for the release of suspected terrorists' facilitators arrested by law enforcement agencies the other day."
However, Dawar, National Assembly member for North Waziristan, denied the allegations, telling Voice of America's Deewa Service, that the military started shooting at the protesters after they were barred by security personnel from participating in the sit-in protest. He said the protest was against the military's alleged assault of a local woman and arrest of several others the day before.
"We were going to protest that incident when they opened fire on us," he said. "At first, it was aerial firing, then they fired on us directly."
The violence came a month after Director General of ISPR Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said the military wanted to resolve issues the minority Pashtun population faces but that they would not tolerate any aggression or protests by the PTM.
"You have enjoyed all the liberty that you wanted to," he said in an address April 29.
Rights-based group PTM has been protesting the practice of extrajudicial killings, unlawful detentions and disappearances of Pashtun minorities in the country.
The military has alleged that the group receives funding from unfriending nations working to undermine Pakistan's governance.
Following the violence Sunday, Ghafoor blamed only a "few" for inciting the violence and that "no one will be allowed to undo the gains of decades-long national struggle & sacrifices, especially of brave Pakistani tribals."