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Pak swap 25 militants with 211 soldiers
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November 05, 2007 14:08 IST

The Pakistan government has freed 25 militants, including some convicted by anti-terror courts, in exchange for 211 soldiers who were being held hostage by rebels in the restive northwestern tribal areas.

Military spokesperson Major Gen Waheed Arshad said 211 soldiers had been released and 25 militants, who were arrested under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, were freed on Sunday in South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Some of the freed militants, which include 24-year-old Sohail Zeb, a relative of slain Taliban commander Abdullah Mehsud, were convicted by an anti-terrorism court, media reports said.

A total of 247 army personnel, including eight officers, were captured by the men of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud on August 30. Thirty-one soldiers were released subsequently while three were killed by the militants to pressure the government to accept their demands.

The release of the soldiers yesterday was facilitated by talks held with the militants through a jirga or council of tribal elders. The militants brought the 211 soldiers to Tiarza Khula, a remote area in South Waziristan, and handed them over to the tribal elders. The military brought the 25 militants in two helicopters to the brigade headquarters near Wana and they were later taken to Tiarza Khula for the swap.

Seven militants were released from the central jail in Dera Ismail Khan and 18 were brought from Islamabad.

The North West Frontier Province government has also withdrawn seven terrorism cases pending in an anti-terror court in Dera Ismail Khan to facilitate the release of the militants, Dawn newspaper said.

Zulfiqar Mehsud, a spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, handed over the soldiers to the jirga. The militants also returned weapons, vehicles and communication equipment captured from the soldiers.

Baitullah Mehsud had earlier demanded the release of 30 militants and the withdrawal of troops from the areas of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. He has now reportedly agreed to implement a peace accord in the region and to expel foreign militants from the area.

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