Monday, April 27, 2009

Pakistani Taliban suspend peace talks in Swat valley

Islamabad: A pro-Taliban cleric suspended talks with Pakistani authorities Monday, a day after paramilitary troops began an offensive against the militants in the restive north-western region.
The new push began early Sunday in Lower Dir district, part of the Malakand Division where the regional government introduced Islamic sharia law this month under a truce with Taliban. "No peace negotiations will take place with the government until a halt in the Dir operation," said Amir Izzat Khan, a spokesman for hardline cleric Sufi Mohammad, who brokered the peace pact. The Pakistani military said the assault was launched at the request of the regional government and residents of Dir, which is also the home district of Sufi Mohammad. Fighting is concentrated around Islampura and Lal Qila areas, where the army said it found at least 10 bodies of militants. However, it said "a number of miscreants" were killed in fierce battles.
The casualties could not be confirmed independently, but private television channels put the death toll as high as 30. An ambush in the area also left one soldier dead and four others wounded. The fighting forced hundreds of families to leave Dir for safer places in the neighbouring districts.
The security situation in the region deteriorated last week when militants from Swat district, also located in Malakand, took control of adjoining Buner district, just 100 km from capital Islamabad.
Though the insurgents later announced a withdrawal, authorities and locals in Buner say scores of militants, including some Al Qaeda fighters, were still present in the district. Western pressure has mounted on Islamabad to act against the Taliban, who have refused to disarm as agreed under the peace pact.

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