Jirga fails to secure release of soldiers

Published September 3, 2007

TANK/GHALANAI, Sept 2: Local Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has linked the release of over 150 soldiers taken hostage on Aug 30 to the implementation of the Sararogha agreement signed in Feb 2005, Zulfiqar Mehsud, a spokesman for the commander, said on Sunday.

The agreement requires the government to grant amnesty to the militant commander and restrains Baitullah Mehsud from protecting and assisting foreign militants, attacking government officials and installations or blocking development projects in the area.

But militants claim that a clause, which is not included in the written agreement, requires security forces to stop their movements in the Mehsud-dominated area of South Waziristan.

Militants dispute the figure of 150 hostages given by the government and claim to have seized 300 soldiers.

The spokesman also claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of 10 personnel of the Frontier Corps in the Mohmand Agency, and warned of suicide attacks if the government started military operations in tribal areas.

“Our foremost demand is the implementation of the Sararogha agreement, which binds the government to contain the movement of troops in South Waziristan,” he said.

Sources said that talks between members of a tribal jirga and militants for the release of over 150 security personnel had failed. The 50-member jirga headed by Senator Salih Shah went to Wana from Laddah and briefed Political Agent Hussainzada Khan on Sunday on talks held with militants.

The sources said that militants had told the elders of the Mehsud tribe that further talks were meaningless till the previous agreement was honoured.

Zulfiqar Mehsud told Dawn by phone from an undisclosed location that Baitullah’s men were responsible for kidnapping 10 paramilitary personnel, including a major, from the Mohmand tribal region on Saturday. He said his men had also carried out a suicide attack in the Frontier Region, Jandola, in which six personnel of the security forces were injured.

“We can discuss release of the soldiers and other issues when ‘Mujahideen’ are conveyed that the government is sincerely implementing the peace agreement,” the spokesman said.

“Forget about the release of 300 soldiers at the moment,” he said.

The spokesman warned the government that if it did not change its Waziristan policy, militants would intensify attacks on security forces and launch more suicide attacks.

In a demonstration of defiance, militants in the Mohmand Agency seized two checkpoints of the Khasaddar Force in Lakaro and Haleemzai tehsils of the region on Sunday and set up a checkpost on the highway.

They had kidnapped 10 soldiers of the Mohmand Rifles in the relatively peaceful Mohmand Agency on Saturday, and a tribal jirga was holding talks with the captors to get the personnel freed.

The political administration gave the tribal elders a 24-hour deadline to secure release of the kidnapped personnel, remove militants from the highway or face action. The elders informed the administration that the militants had been removed from the road, and sought 48 hours for release of hostages.

The sources said the militants snatched rifles from the Khasaddar men and started checking vehicles in the Kandaru area.

Meanwhile, a tribesman was killed and another wounded in an exchange of fire near a checkpoint when armed men tried to kidnap a resident. The victim has been identified as Arif.

In the Bajaur tribal region, the authorities have asked tribesmen not to go out after sunset following a recent suicide attack on security forces which left three security personnel and two civilians dead. The administration also postponed the recruitment for the Bajaur Levies for an indefinite period.



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