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Pakistan Taliban declare ceasefire in tribal area

A deputy to Pakistan's top Taliban commander declared a unilateral ceasefire in a northwest district where massive government offensives have pounded insurgents for months.

world Updated: Feb 23, 2009 23:25 IST

A deputy to Pakistan's top Taliban commander on Monday declared a unilateral ceasefire in a northwest district where massive government offensives have pounded insurgents for months.

"We made this announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in the interest of Pakistan and our region," said Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) deputy chief Maulvi Faqir Mohammad in a 30-minute speech on his FM Radio.

"We advise our people not to take action against security forces."

The ceasefire applies only to Bajaur, one of Pakistan's seven federally administered tribal areas (FATA) along the Afghan border, a notorious hub of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants where the group is hunkered down.

The much feared TTP is headed by Pakistan's most wanted militant, Baitullah Mehsud, accused of plotting the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto and allegedly linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

It was the second TTP ceasefire in Bajaur since Pakistan launched a massive operation to rid the district of Taliban last August.

The army was not immediately reachable for comment, but the government rejected the last ceasefire offer on August 24.

The Taliban on Monday rescinded threats against government property and schools, which soldiers have requisitioned as bases for their campaign.

"We withdraw our earlier threats to attack government installations and schools," the deputy commander told the radio station.

The ceasefire announcement followed a meeting between tribal elders and Taliban militants, said an AFP reporter.

Security forces on Monday captured the "strategically important" Bachina heights in Bajaur that had been under militant control for a long time, an official told AFP earlier on condition of anonymity.

Local government official Faramoosh Khan also said Taliban militants destroyed two schools on Monday in Bajaur.

Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt has become a stronghold for hundreds of extremists who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.

Islamabad says the Bajaur offensive is proof of its commitment to crushing insurgents, despite heavy criticism from US and Afghan officials who say Pakistan is not doing enough to stop militants crossing into Afghanistan.