Eighteen civilians died violently in northwest Pakistan in the Khyber tribal zone, officials told Efe on Wednesday.

The deaths of the civilians on Tuesday night prompted a protest in the nearby city of Peshawar, where about 1,000 people gathered in front of the office of the provincial governor of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region with the bodies of the slain.

No details were available about the circumstances under which the people were killed, but police spokesmen and officials told Efe that the shootout occurred in the Malakhel zone.

A member of the coordination organization for the tribal zones said from Peshawar that on Tuesday afternoon there was an explosion in the Malakhel zone and that shortly thereafter security forces launched an operation against members of the local insurgency.

The official, however, refused to specify if the 18 victims were killed in that fighting.

Malakhel is located in the Bara district, where security forces and different insurgent groups have been fighting hard to control an area considered to be of great strategic importance since it is part of the Tirah Valley, a natural pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For more than a year, the army has been fighting the fundamentalist Islamists for control of the triangle formed by the tribal zones of Orakzai, Khyber and Kurram, which provide a corridor into the neighboring country and also to Taliban bastions farther to the south. EFE