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Taliban Militants Kidnap Pakistani Official In Swat

Local residents flee Swat valley
MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Taliban militants have kidnapped the top government administrator and six of his guards in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley, the group and officials said, dealing a blow to efforts to restore peace.

Khushal Khan was traveling by car to Mingora, the main town of Swat, when he was abducted by "miscreants," Syed Mohammad Jawed, commissioner for the Malakand division that includes Swat, told Reuters.

Pakistani authorities on February 16 struck a deal with Islamists to restore Shari'a law in an effort to pacify Swat, an alpine valley where the Pakistan military has struggled to put down a Taliban uprising.

Muslim Khan, the Taliban spokesman in Swat, said the group claimed responsibility for abducting the administrator.

"He is our guest. We have to discuss some issues with him. We will serve him with tea and then free him," he told Reuters.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani instructed authorities to ensure the early and safe recovery of the administrator and his guards.

"The prime minister also directed the law enforcing agencies to keep a strong vigil on the antistate elements who wanted to impede the government's efforts for restoration of peace and tranquility in Swat and adjoining areas," Gilani's office said in a statement.

Around 1,200 people have been killed and 250,000 to 500,000 have fled the Swat valley since violence intensified in mid-2007.

A journalist working for a local television channel and newspaper was abducted and killed on February 18 as he covered a "peace march," led by radical cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad who was freed by the government to negotiate peace.

On February 15, Islamist militants announced a 10-day cease-fire in the valley as a "goodwill gesture" towards the peace talks.

Pakistan said on February 21 that the government and the militants had agreed a "permanent truce," but a Taliban commander said their cease-fire would be reviewed on its expiry on February 25.

The Taliban has denounced the journalist's killing and denied involvement.

Western governments and liberal Pakistanis have been alarmed by the Swat agreement, which they say would strengthen the militants and could result in another sanctuary in Pakistan where Al-Qaeda and the Taliban could move freely.

Pakistani officials are defending the pact, which they say is the best option to stem the rising tide of militants flowing from the wild tribal Afghan border region to cities and towns.