Pakistani Militants Declare Cease-Fire
Taliban Militants Declare Cease-Fire in Fighting With Pakistani Forces, the Government Says
By ISHTIAQ MAHSUD and ROBERT H. REID Associated Press WritersDERA ISMAIL KHAN,
Taliban militants declared a cease-fire Wednesday in fighting with Pakistani forces, and the government said it was preparing for peace talks with al-Qaida-linked extremists in the lawless tribal area near the border with Afghanistan.
Any deal that allows armed Islamic extremists to operate on Pakistani soil would run counter to U.S. demands for the government to crack down on militants. The Bush administration contends a failed truce last year allowed al-Qaida to expand its reach into this turbulent, nuclear-armed country, and the U.S. has sounded warnings in recent days about a revival of militant strength.
A spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a militant umbrella group, said the new cease-fire would include not only the tribal belt along the Afghan border but also the restive Swat region to the east where the army has also battled pro-Taliban fighters.
Two local Pakistani security officials told The Associated Press on Thursday that the truce followed secret talks with the militants and tribal elders. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive.
Tehrik-e-Taliban is led by Baitullah Mehsud, an al-Qaida-linked commander based in South Waziristan whom President Pervez Musharraf's government has blamed for a series of suicide attacks across Pakistan, including the Dec. 27 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
A spokeswoman for Bhutto's party condemned the contacts with Mehsud's militants.
"The government is holding talks with the man blamed by it for the killing of Benazir Bhutto. We condemn it," spokeswoman Sherry Rehman said Thursday.
1) Pakistani Militants Declare Cease-Fire