TANK, Nov 4: The government on Sunday freed 25 militants in exchange for the release of 213 army personnel who were held hostage in South Waziristan for more than two months.

Military spokesperson Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad confirmed that 211 soldiers had been released and said that 25 militants who had been arrested under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) were also freed. Some of the freed militants had been convicted by an anti-terrorism court.

“I can’t say anything about the physical condition of soldiers at this moment, but there will be a debriefing session and medical check-up of all the released soldiers,” he told Dawn by phone from Islamabad.

He said that 211 soldiers were released on Sunday while two had been freed on Saturday.

Sources said that militants had brought 213 soldiers to Tiarza Khula, a remote area in South Waziristan, and handed them over to tribal elders. The military authorities brought the 25 militants in two helicopters to the brigade headquarters in Zari Noor colony near Wana. They were later taken to Tiarza Khula for the swap.

The sources said that seven militants had been released from the central jail in Dera Ismail Khan and 18 had been brought from Islamabad.

Zulfiqar Mehsud, spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, and his deputy Fakher Alam Mehsud handed over the soldiers to a jirga headed by former MNA Maulvi Mirajuddin.

Militants had on Aug 30 kidnapped 247 army personnel, including eight officers, in the Momi Karam area of South Waziristan. Later, 31 soldiers were released and three were shot dead. The sources said that militants had returned weapons, vehicles and communication equipment captured from the military personnel.

Mr Mirajuddin, who brokered the deal, said that issue had been resolved amicably and the two sides agreed to implement the Sararogha peace accord in letter and spirit.

Sources in Peshawar told Dawn that the NWFP government had also withdrawn seven terrorism cases pending before the anti-terrorism court in Dera Ismail Khan against some of the arrested militants.

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