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Pakistan Frees 12 Taliban Militants In Northwest

An Islamist leader addresses Swat residents after the establishment of Shari'a law
(RFE/RL) A Pakistani official says 12 Taliban militants have been released after talks between authorities in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Taliban and Islamist representatives.

Syed Mohammad Javed, the commissioner of Swat in NWFP, bordering Afghanistan, told Reuters that the detainees' release on March 7 was "one of the demands of the Taliban" and "a goodwill gesture."

Javed said Pakistani officials are hoping the militants will now "play their part for peace," and observe a peace agreement struck last month.

The release is likely to deepen concerns among NATO countries, where officials fear that the February 16 peace agreement in Swat may create another safe haven for Al-Qaeda and other terrorists on Pakistan's soil.

As part of the peace talks between the provincial government and a hard-line Islamist movement in Swat with some ties to the Taliban, Pakistani authorities agreed to enforce Shari'a law in the valley.

Pro-Taliban militants have since agreed to a permanent cease-fire, allowed female students back into schools, and released seven government officials and soldiers.

But violence has continued in spite of the cease-fire. Just days after the truce was signed, a member of a prominent anti-Taliban family returned to his village and was kidnapped by the Taliban, tortured, and murdered.

Separately, militants killed two Pakistani soldiers who they accused of patrolling without first informing them, one of the terms of the truce.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said security forces will act if Swat authorities are unable to control the militants. He also vowed that his government will not negotiate with the Taliban.