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Pakistani Taliban Claim Withdrawing From Buner

An armed Taliban and residents outside a mosque in the Buner district on April 23
BUNER, Pakistan (Reuters) -- A Pakistani Taliban commander has ordered his men to withdraw from Buner district, a spokesman has said, amid mounting alarm in the United States and Islamabad over the militants' creeping advance.

Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said there were around 100 fighters in Buner, a district just 100 kilometers from Islamabad and less than five hours' drive from the capital.

"Our leader has ordered that Taliban should immediately be called back from Buner," Khan told Reuters.

Khan belongs to faction led by Taliban commander Fazlullah, whose stronghold is in the neighboring Swat valley where the government has caved in to militants' demands for the imposition of a harsh form of Islamic law.

He said government and Taliban representatives were en route to Buner, along with a radical Muslim cleric who brokered the Swat deal, to deliver a message to fighters to vacate the district.

Khan was quoted in the past week as saying Al-Qaeda would be given refuge in lands under Taliban control.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has termed the government's policies of appeasement in Swat as an abdication of authority to the Taliban, while Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Pakistan's leaders to take action against foes who represented an "existential threat" to the state.