Militant commander orders ceasefire in Pakistan
Friday, 25 April 2008

REUTERS, PESHAWAR, Pakistan - An al Qaeda-linked militant commander has ordered his followers to stop attacks in Pakistan after the new government began peace talks, a government official said on Thursday.

Pakistan's new government that emerged from a February general election has promised to pursue negotiations in a bid to end a tide of militant violence in which hundreds of people have been killed since the middle of last year.

But the prospect of peace pacts with militants based in lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border has raised concern as critics say deals only give militants the opportunity to re-group and intensify their attacks in Afghanistan.

With talks under way, Baitullah Mehsud, a militant leader accused of organising the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December, has put out word to his followers to cease attacks in Pakistan.

"All members of Tehrik-e-Taliban are ordered by Baitullah Mehsud that a ban is imposed on provocative activities for the sake of peace," the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or Movement of Taliban, said in a leaflet distributed in the South Waziristan region and nearby towns close to the Afghan border.

The group is a umbrella organisation, formed last year, of various militant groups based in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun border lands, and led by Mehsud. A military spokesman declined to comment on the ceasefire or the talks, but he denied a militant claim that government troops had begun pulling back from positions in South Waziristan.

The top Interior Ministry official, Rehman Malik, welcomed the ceasefire: "If he's said it, we welcome it," Malik told reporters, adding that Mehsud had denied killing Bhutto.

STRUNG UP IN PUBLIC

The militant group said in the leaflets anyone who defied the ceasefire order would be strung up in public, according to a copy obtained by Reuters.

The new coalition government, led by Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, has started negotiations in a bid to break with the policies of President Pervez Musharraf, whose strategies, ranged from military action to appeasement. Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism is deeply unpopular and many Pakistanis say it has only incited militant violence. Authorities have struck pacts with militants before.

The deals brought a temporary decline in violence in some parts of Pakistan, but were also meant to stop attacks into Afghanistan and lead to the expulsion of foreign fighters. However, critics, including U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, said the deals let al Qaeda and the Taliban regroup and plot on the Pakistani side of the border and intensify their attacks across it into Afghanistan.

Information minister in North West Frontier Province, Iftikhar Hussain, acknowledged U.S. and other Western concerns, given the failure of previous pacts, but said he was sure this one would succeed. "It'll take time, they must trust us," he said

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