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Swat militants free 48 militiamen

November 03, 2007

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SWAT, Nov 2: Militants on Friday released 48 militiamen they had captured a day earlier, after parading them before a media corps in Charbagh.

Amid tense calm in the Swat valley for most part of the day, security personnel vacated the important police stations of Matta and Khwazakhela where they had remained under siege for many days. The police station of Charbagh had been vacated a few days ago.

Before releasing the security personnel, the militants gave them Rs500 each for the transport cost.

“We have to take all possible steps to suppress the activities of the militants,” said provincial police officer Mohammad Sharif Virk.

He told Dawn by phone that he had heard about the police stations having been and had been trying to ascertain the exact situation.

Maulana Fazlullah, spearheading the movement against the government, made his first public appearance since the clashes broke out in the area. He led funeral prayers of his two fighters in Shakrdara.

Witnesses said he vowed to continue what he called the struggle for enforcement of Sharia in the region and not to lay down arms at any cost. He declared that his people who had been killed were martyrs.

It is learnt that top leaders of the militants have put forward three main demands to a local jirga comprising former MPAs Hussain Ahmad Kanju and Mohammad Amin and other elders.

The demands are: enforcement of Sharia in the Malakand region, withdrawal of troops from Swat, and withdrawal of cases against Maulana Fazlullah and his supporters. The jirga members said they would discuss the demands with the government.

The militants also claimed to have released nine paramilitary soldiers on Thursday night after their female family members had approached them. The soldiers, they said, had surrendered in Khwazakheal after they had been surrounded on a hill earlier in the day.

Talking to visiting journalists in Charbagh on the Mingora-Kalam road, about 7km from Mingora, militants’ spokesman Sirajuddin disputed the government’s claim that the security forces had killed over 60 militants and said they had picked bodies of their five men on Friday.

He said two foreigners captured on Thursday would be produced before the media after their identity had been confirmed.

Some of the released militiamen said they had been treated well by the militants and they would not return to their force.

“We had no option but to surrender because we were running short of food and there was no reinforcement in sight,” said Rizwan, a militiaman hailing from Tank.

Another militiaman said some of their colleagues had escaped before they were captured by the militants.

When the journalists went to a compound where the militiamen were produced, the militants were jubilant over what they described as their victory and distributed sweets.

They were openly patrolling Matta, Charbagh and Khwazakhela areas and checking vehicles and people passing by.

Security personnel quietly left the Khwazakhela police station, about 27km from Mingora, on Thursday night after waiting for days for reinforcement. Personnel in Matta vacated the police station on Friday. Witnesses said the security men left the station one by one in plain clothes, leaving behind their weapons, an armoured personnel carrier and other vehicles.

“We have taken away seven vehicles loaded with arms and ammunition left by the militiamen when they were captured,” said Liaqat Khan, who led the militants at Khwazakhela. He said the weapons included machine-guns and G-3 guns.

Agencies add: A delegation of clerics and local politicians met Maulana Fazlullah on Friday to try to end the standoff.

“Fazlullah has said he is ready to hold talks with the government,” Mohammad Amin, a local tribal politician, told Reuters.

He said Fazlullah had set three conditions for the talks – withdrawal of security forces from Swat, enforcement of Sharia and withdrawal of cases against his followers.

Meanwhile, Malakand Division’s DIGP Syed Akhtar Ali Shah said more contingents of security forces were being deployed in Swat to maintain order in the troubled areas.