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Pak suspends operation against militants for peace talks

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad | July 05, 2008 19:39 IST

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Pakistani security forces on Saturday temporarily suspended a crackdown against militants in the troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan to allow local elders to negotiate with them.

An 18-member peace jirga met Lashkar-e-Islam chief Mangal Bagh at Tirah Valley in the Khyber Agency to discuss measures to end fighting in the region between rival militant groups.

Two more persons were killed on Saturday in clashes between cadres of the Lashkar-e-Islam and the Ansar-ul-Islam, taking the toll in recent fighting between the groups to 91.

Pakistani paramilitary forces had on June 28 launched a crackdown on militants in Khyber Agency, located near the North West Frontier Province capital of Peshawar.

The operation, codenamed "Sirat-e-Mustaqeem" (Righteous Path), was suspended for 36 hours to allow the jirga to negotiate with Mangal Bagh, TV channels reported.

The troops have so far taken control of Bara area in Khyber Agency, the stronghold of Mangal Bagh, but faced no resistance from the rebels.

During his parleys with the jirga, Mangal Bagh demanded that the government should call off the operation by security forces. He also demanded that the security forces should stop demolishing the bases of his group.

Noting that the government had issued no warning before launching the operation, Mangal Bagh told the jirga that he was ready to hold talks to resolve the issue peacefully.

Lashkar-e-Islam deputy chief Misri Khan Afridi told reporters that his group had not yet accepted any demands made by the government but would continue peace talks.

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