Five Pakistani soldiers killed in gunbattles with militants, army says

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Five Pakistani soldiers were killed in gunbattles with Islamist militants in the country's northwest bordering Afghanistan on Monday, the Pakistan Army said.

The statement said the deaths were in addition to two other soldiers, including an officer, who were killed the previous day in an operation against the militants on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar.

It said a total of 23 militants had also been killed in the last two days in what it described as three intelligence-based operations on their hideouts in northwest Pakistan close to the Afghan border.

The militants were "involved in numerous terrorist activities against the security forces as well as the innocent civilians," the army said.

The five soldiers were killed in Khyber district, it said.

The military didn't identify what group the militants belonged to.

The lawless tribal regions along the Afghan border have long been a safe haven for the Islamist and sectarian militants who operate under an umbrella group called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The TTP aims to overthrow the government and replace it with a harsh brand of Islamic law.

Islamabad says TTP leaders have taken refuge in neighbouring Afghanistan where they run camps to train Islamist militants to launch attacks inside Pakistan.

Kabul has previously said rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have soured in recent months. Islamabad says Kabul is not doing enough to tackle militant groups targeting Pakistan.

On Sunday, Pakistan said it had arrested 11 Islamist militants who were involved in a suicide bombing that killed five Chinese engineers, alleging the attack was planned by the TTP on Afghan soil, a charge Kabul has previously denied.

(Reporting by Asif ShahzadEditing by Peter Graff and Susan Fenton)