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NWFP govt reaches truce with Swat militants

May 10, 2008

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MINGORA, May 9: The ANP-led provincial government and militants in Swat reached a ceasefire agreement on Friday.

The breakthrough was achieved after three hours of talks between a government committee and a team of militants representing Maulana Fazlullah, the firebrand cleric who leads the militants in the valley.

The talks were held at the Fishing Hut Chakdara in Dir Lower amid tensions in Swat where during a joint operation conducted by army, Frontier Crops and police, 25 suspected militants were arrested in the Gado area of tehsil Kabal. A large quantity of arms and ammunition was seized.

The operation was launched on Friday morning after a roadside bomb blast and attack on a convoy of security forces. A police constable was killed and two others were injured in an exchange of fire.

Six militants had been killed near the Wennai bridge in Matta tehsil on Thursday night.

“We talked to each other, like Pashtuns do. They are also Pashtuns and they did understand that violence has brought nothing but bloodshed and mayhem,” Senior NWFP Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour told Dawn in Peshawar.

Mr Bilour, who headed the committee formed by the government to negotiate with the militants in Swat, said the two sides had decided to place “tega” -- a Pushto euphemism for truce.

He said the two sides had signed an agreement to stop violence in the valley, adding that the militants had agreed to stop attacks on security personnel and government installations. The government, in return, would stop search operations and arrests, he added.

“The ceasefire will hold until we reach a final agreement. We are going to Swat next week and will hold more talks with the militants,” he said.

Mr Bilour was assisted in the talks by home secretary Tepu Mahabat Khan, DIG Malakand Tanvirul Haq Sipra, Malakand DCO Arshad Khan, Swat DCO Waqif Khan, Swat PDO Waqif Khan, NWFP Minister for Environment Wajid Ali Khan and MPA Shamsher Khan.

The militants’ side, headed by Muslim Khan, spokesman for Maulana Fazlullah, included Mehmood, Ali Bakht, Nisar Khan, Maulana Mohammad Amin, Maulana Abdul Ghafor and Shamshir Khan.

Senior Minister Rahimdad Khan of the PPP, who is a member of the committee, was in Islamabad and did not attend the meeting.

A source privy to the talks said that the militants had submitted eight demands which, according to him, were ‘fairly unacceptable’. But, he said, the government believed that the militants could be engaged in meaningful talks to resolve the issue amicably.

There was no official word on the militants’ demands. However, the source said these would be taken up in the next meeting likely to be held next week.

Mr Bilour declined to give details of the demands, but said the talks were held in a friendly atmosphere and he was optimistic about a positive outcome. He said that the militants wanted an overall agreement to include troops’ withdrawal from Swat and tribal regions.

“But we have told them that troops’ withdrawal from Swat can only be discussed when there is complete peace in the valley. As for as the withdrawal of forces from the tribal regions is concerned, we made it clear that this is something that pertains to the federal government and outside the purview of the provincial government. They understood our position,” Mr Bilour said.