Tue, Apr 28, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Pakistani forces pound militant hideouts

AFP AND REUTERS , ISLAMABAD AND PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

Pakistani men attend a jirgah, a centuries-old mechanism to resolve disputes, in Buner on Sunday after the Taliban expanded its control to the town. Pakistani troops claimed killing at least 10 militants as they launched a new assault on Sunday against militants in the Lower Dir district, neighbor to the Swat region that was put under Islamic rule two weeks ago after a controversial truce.

PHOTO: EPA

Pakistani forces yesterday pounded suspected militant hideouts after the Taliban suspended talks with the government over the Swat valley, the military said.

Paramilitary troops and helicopter gunships bombed the suspected bases in Lower Dir for the second day running, a military official said.

“Helicopter gunships targeted different militant hideouts but there were no immediate reports of any casualties,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban had earlier suspended talks with the government demanding the army halt its latest operation against militants in which around 30 insurgents have been killed, said Ameer Izzat Khan, a spokesman for a cleric who negotiated a peace deal between the two sides.

The talks were aimed at restoring peace in the Malakand region, which includes the district of Swat, after Taliban fighters infiltrated nearby Buner town despite the peace deal signed with the provincial government in February.

The government had insisted the militants lay down their arms after it agreed to implement Islamic justice system in the region. Interior Minister Rehman Malik accused the militants of violating the deal.

The Pakistan military, under US pressure to stop the advance of the extremists in the region, launched its offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest of the country on Sunday.

“Our council of leaders met on Sunday night and decided to suspend peace negotiations with the government in North West Frontier Province,” Khan said.

“We, however, still adhere to the February deal,” that put 3 million people under Islamic law, he said.

Despite the deal, Taliban militants took control yesterday of a telephone exchange in Behrain town, 30km north of Swat valley, police officials said.

“About 30 armed Taliban took control of a telephone exchange in Behrain Monday morning,” a police official said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari yesterday ruled out the possibility of his country’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban.

“I want to assure the world that the nuclear capability of Pakistan is under safe hands,” he told a panel interview with international media.

The Taliban’s creeping advances towards Islamabad in recent weeks heightened fears in the US about the stability of its nuclear-armed ally.

Zardari also said Pakistani intelligence believed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was dead but had no evidence.

“The Americans tell me they don’t know and they are much more equipped than us to trace him. And our own intelligence services obviously think that he does not exist any more, that he is dead,” Zardari told reporters.

“But there is no evidence, you cannot take that as a fact,” he said. “We are between facts and fiction.”

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