.
.
.
.

Pakistani Taliban declare indefinite ceasefire

Vow to release all prisoners unconditionally

Published:

Pakistani Taliban fighters on Tuesday declared an indefinite ceasefire and vowed to release prisoners in the Swat valley, where they have fought for nearly two years to enforce sharia law.

The announcement came eight days after the government signed a controversial deal to accept Islamic law as the only system of justice in Swat, a former tourist resort and barely a morning's drive from the capital Islamabad.

The deal provoked alarm in the United States, Europe, Afghanistan and India, where governments are worried it will embolden militants in the North West Frontier Province, which is rife with Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists.

Militants in Swat, which until 2007 was one of Pakistan's prime tourist destinations, had already announced a 10-day truce after a radical cleric, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, struck a deal with authorities on the enforcement of sharia law.

Militant leader Maulana Fazlullah convened a consultative council on Tuesday and agreed to extend a 10-day ceasefire, which had been scheduled to expire on Wednesday, and release prisoners, his spokesman Muslim Khan told AFP.

"Today the shura met under Maulana Fazlullah and decided to hold a ceasefire for an indefinite period," Khan said.

His supporters observed a temporary truce since last Monday, when the government signed a controversial deal with pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammad to enforce sharia law in Swat in an effort to end Fazlullah's insurgency.

Today the shura met under Maulana Fazlullah and decided to hold a ceasefire for an indefinite period

Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan

Release of prisoners

No date has been announced for when sharia law would take effect. It is also not clear how the system, which supporters say will be faster than the penal courts, will be implemented or who will be responsible for justice.

"We are releasing all prisoners unconditionally. Today we released four paramilitary soldiers and we will release all security personnel in our custody as a goodwill gesture," Khan vowed.

Thousands of Fazlullah's supporters have spent nearly two years waging a terrifying campaign to enforce sharia law in Swat, beheading opponents, bombing girls' schools, outlawing entertainment and fighting government forces.

Past peace deals between the government and militants have collapsed.

The Swat valley was, before Fazlullah began his bloody uprising, Pakistan's only ski resort frequented by Westerners

All boys' and some girls' schools reopened in Swat on Monday, a week earlier than the usual end of the winter holidays, but attendance was extremely low -- at least partly due to ongoing security fears.

Militants have destroyed 191 schools in the valley, including 122 girls' schools, according to local education official Sher Azfal.

We are releasing all prisoners unconditionally. Today we released four paramilitary soldiers and we will release all security personnel in our custody as a goodwill gesture

Taliban spokesman Muslim khan

Militant sanctuaries

The army said on Monday it had ceased operations against militants in the valley and said there would be no sanctuary for militants there if the writ of the state was re-established.

The United States and other Western countries have been pressing Pakistan for years to eliminate militant sanctuaries, especially in areas along the Afghan border from where Taliban infiltrate into Afghanistan.

The military said this year about 1,500 militants had been killed in fighting since last August. There was no independent verification of that estimate.

The government said this month 1,200 civilians had been killed in violence in the valley since 2007 and the human rights group Amnesty International said between 200,000 and 500,000 people had been displaced.