PESHAWAR/WANA, Aug 18: Baitullah Mehsud, a militant commander leading the insurgency in South Waziristan, on Saturday announced scrapping his peace agreement with the government.

“It has been the government’s policy to force Mujahideen to scrap the peace deal. We tried our best to keep the agreement intact,” Zulfiqar Mehsud, a purported spokesman for the commander told Dawn on telephone.

“The government violated the agreement, carried out air strikes and moved troops into our area,” he said.

However, a senior government official said a jirga that went to meet militants on Saturday had negotiated a ceasefire that would lead to cessation of hostilities.

Senator Saleh Shah from South Waziristan also said the agreement was intact. He said the statement of the militants’ spokesman had been misinterpreted by the media. The senator said he had talked to the spokesman who had denied having announced scrapping the agreement.

“All that the spokesman said was that the government could imperil the peace agreement by deploying forces and conducting operations,” Senator Shah said.

The government had signed a six-point peace agreement with Baitullah in February 2005 under which he had agreed not to protect and assist foreign militants, target government functionaries and installations or block work on development projects.

In return, the government had granted amnesty to the commander and his supporters.

Militants in North Waziristan have already pulled out of a peace agreement they had signed with the government in September last year.

A group of militants belonging to the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe in South Waziristan said Baitullah’s announcement would have no bearing on their truce with the government in Wana region.

Baitullah’s spokesman accused the government of breaching the agreement and killing his supporters in military actions over the past few days.

Claiming responsibility for Thursday’s attack on security forces in Jagmalai area in which 11 soldiers were killed, the spokesman said Baitullah’s fighters would continue their activities against the government and its forces.

“We attacked the security forces in Jagmalai, killed many of them and destroying their vehicles and Mujahideen will do it again and again, unless the government reviews its policy,” he said.

He, however, denied involvement of his group in the kidnapping of 16 men of the Frontier Corps on Aug 9, one of whom was found beheaded later.

An official of the South Waziristan administration said the 21-member jirga led by tribal parliamentarian Maulana Merajuddin met militants in Emar Raghzai and succeeded in effecting a ceasefire. “They were sent in three vehicles with white flags,” the official said.

He said the jirga also had held meetings in Barwand and it was heading back after succeeding in its efforts.

“The jirga had tacit approval of Baitullah Mehsud,” the official claimed. He said that militants had agreed to let military convoys held up at two points move and to withdraw their fighters from mountain peaks.

As a goodwill gesture, he said, the militants allowed an army helicopter to retrieve bodies of the soldiers killed on Thursday from Jagmalai.

“Things are going well,” the official said. “But since the area is so big, it obviously would take time for the militants to relay the message around. There is now calm,” he said.

The official said the militants had taken exception to the army setting up checkpoints, although they had no objection to troops’ movement in accordance with the February 2005 agreement.

“We have been working on new peace arrangements with Baitullah Mehsud for the past 18-20 days but the Pakistan-Afghan jirga came and then it took the government a while to take stock of the situation and move ahead,” an official in Peshawar said.

Local people said guns went silent in Waziristan after two days of violent clashes between the army and militants, which left 32 people dead.

However, people in Makeen area said a helicopter gunship came under fire on Saturday.

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