WANA, Sept 16: Tribal negotiators have claimed a breakthrough in talks with militants for release of nearly 300 soldiers in return for withdrawal of troops from some of the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan.

A tribal jirga led by MNA Maulvi Mirajudin and Senator Salih Shah briefed political agent Hussainzada Khan in Wana on Sunday on the talks they had held with the militants holding the soldiers hostage. Sources said senior military officers were also present on the occasion.

Senator Salih was optimistic about the release of the soldiers taken hostage on Aug 30 by militant group of commander Baitullah Mehsud.

“There is some understanding between the two sides under which security forces will be pulled out of two areas in return for the soldiers’ release,” Senator Salih told Dawn by phone. He said troops would be withdrawn from Ghet Ser and Shin Ser areas of the troubled region.

However, ISPR director-general Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad expressed ignorance about any progress in the talks, particularly about withdrawal of troops from some areas.

He told Dawn from Islamabad that a ceasefire had been brokered with the help of the jirga on Saturday and negotiations were under way to resolve the issue.

Senator Salih said that supply of food for security forces deployed in the Mehsud tribe’s areas, so far blocked by militants, would be resumed on Monday under supervision of the jirga.

Official sources said a timeframe for the soldiers’ release had been decided, adding that militants had demanded release of their 50 people before they freed the soldiers. A jirga member said the two sides had reached understanding on major issues, but declined to provide details.

Our correspondent in Tank Alamgir Bhittani contributed to this report

Updated Sep 17, 2007 12:00am

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