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Pakistan Strikes Deal with Militants in Troubled Swat Province


Pakistani government representatives and a spokesman for a pro-Taliban militant group say they have struck a peace deal aimed at ending months of fighting in the restive Swat valley. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad on the terms of the agreement.

The 15-point plan includes concessions from both the military and the band of militants who have challenged the government's authority in Swat for nearly a year.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the militants said the two sides had reached an agreement.

Ali Bakht says after a long debate we have come to the conclusion that the points the government has presented fulfill our demands.

Bashir Bilour, a representative of the North-West Frontier Province regional government, said officials agreed to steps toward implementing Islamic law, including building an Islamic University in the town where the military destroyed a madrassa run by militant leader Maulana Fazlullah. He also said some prisoners would be released and soldiers would begin leaving Swat under a phased withdrawal.

Bilour said, in exchange, militants agreed to halt attacks, stop brandishing their weapons in public, close down bomb factories and terrorist training centers and hand over foreign militants.

He says the Taliban must accept the writ of the government, and it will do so.

Maulana Fazlullah and his followers have openly challenged the government for nearly a year in Swat, a scenic town just 150 kilometers from Pakistan's capital that was once a hub for tourism. Militants overran police stations and government offices and became the ruling authority in the region. Late last year, the military dispatched more than 10,000 soldiers to Swat and eventually routed militants from most villages, but never captured Maulana Fazlullah.

Wednesday's agreement on Swat does not address Fazlullah's fate. Bashir Bilour said negotiators had not yet addressed the issue of the militant leader.

Pakistan's new government has promoted peace negotiations with militants in Swat and Taliban forces along the Afghan border in an attempt to halt the attacks and suicide bombings that spread across Pakistan last year.

U.S. officials have said such deals could give al Qaida and Taliban militants space to plot attacks around the world. Pakistani negotiators continue to hold peace talks with Taliban fighters along the Afghan border.

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