Pakistan frees dozens of pro-Taliban militants under peace deal

The government in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has freed dozens of militants under a peace deal with the militants who have fought the security forces to enforce Taliban- style rule in the restive valley of Swat, officials said, the dpa reported.

The release came after a meeting between the local authorities in Swat and the close aides of pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

"We have allowed more than 60 suspected militants to go to their homes from Timergirah prison in Peshawar (provincial capital of NWFP)," a security official told Deutsche Presse-Agenture dpa on condition of anonymity. "Fifteen more will be released tomorrow."

Previously a popular tourist destination, Swat valley, came under fire when Pakistani army launched a major operation in late October to clear out followers of Fazlullah.

He had used a pirated FM radio to preach violence against security forces and formed a heavily armed militia to impose austere version of Islam in the region.

The months of clashes left hundreds of people dead, prompting the new government to launch peace talks with the rebels in March this year and reach an agreement on May 21 under which the militants are supposed to renounce violence in exchange of enforcement of Islamic judicial system in Swat district.

Despite peace accord, the firebrand cleric, Fazlullah, continued to criticize the government for what he called "its complete failure in restoring the peace in the region."

"We are committed to the peace agreement but it does not mean that the government should delay enforcing a true Islamic system in Malakand (of which Swat is a part)," he said in a fiery speech at the FM radio on Late Wednesday.

"I do not understand that the government is not taking any action against criminals, robbers and kidnappers while it is always prepared for military operation if someone demands for Islamic system," he added.

Fazlullah as made an issue of the lawlessness in Malakand division to justify his self-defined system of Islamic justice.

"People have cases in the courts and they are waiting for years for courts decisions. That's why people now consult us to resolve their feuds and we help them resolving their problems as per Islamic principles and traditions of the area," he added.

Peace negotiations with the Islamic rebels in Swat are being conducted under what the new government calls revision of hard-handed policies of President Pervez Musharraf, a key US ally in the fight against terrorism.

The similar dialogue is also underway with Islamic extremists in the neighbouring tribal belt, which is believed to provide safe- havens for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants launching cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

The country has in the past signed peace deals with tribal rebels but according to many analysts and Washington these have given militants the opportunity to regroup and strike back in increased strength.

But Pakistan has its reasons for signing peace deals as it has been hit by dozens of suicide attacks over the last one and half year, leaving more than 4000 people dead, creating an atmosphere that has adversely affected the economy.

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