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Pakistan frees 12 Taliban militants

Militants have been freed by the Pakistani government in a bid to appease the Taliban in the Swat valley.

MINGORA, PAKISTAN // Pakistani authorities have released 12 Taliban militants in a bid to consolidate a pact struck last month with Islamists in the troubled North-western Swat valley, a senior government official said today. Their release is likely to deepen concerns among western countries which say the policy of making pacts with Islamists is tantamount to appeasement and emboldens the militants.

US officials fear the deal in Swat may create another safe haven for al Qa'eda and the Taliban on Pakistani soil. The Taliban militants were released on Saturday night after talks between North-west Frontier Province (NWFP) authorities and representatives of the Taliban and the Islamists, officials said. "It was one of the demands of the Taliban. It was a goodwill gesture. We have fulfilled it and we hope now they will play their part for peace," Syed Mohammad Javed, Commissioner of Swat, said.

The Pakistani government, already facing economic crisis, is also confronting a growing tide of militancy flowing out of the lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border and into cities and towns, mainly in North-west Frontier. President Asif Ali Zardari has vowed his government will not negotiate with Taliban militants but NWFP authorities sealed the pact with an influential cleric in Swat, Maulana Sufi Mohammad.

They agreed to enforce Islamic Sharia law in the region in the hope that Mr Mohammad would be able to rein in the militants. Taliban militants announced a ceasefire on Feb 24 and Pakistani forces have halted operations in Swat, a former tourist destination in the mountains just 130km north of the capital, Islamabad. * Reuters

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