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Pakistan Says it Arrested Taliban Spokesman 

  • Ayaz Gul

Pakistani military says it has arrested the spokesman for the Taliban in the restive Swat valley along with four other wanted "terrorists." This is the first major arrest in the region since the government ordered a military offensive to regain control of the northwestern valley and eliminate militants there.

Pakistani authorities say security forces detained Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan and four other key militant commanders in what they are describing "a successful" military raid just outside the main town of Mingora in the Swat Valley.

A notorious commander Mehmood Khan is among those the military has arrested. An official military statement says that the militants are being interrogated and troops are conducting raids on the information obtained from them.

The security operations, says the spokesman, are making "remarkable successes". He refused to give further details about the detainees saying it may undermine the anti-insurgency offensive in Swat.

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that militants have no option but surrender because the government is determined to "either kill them or arrest them." He reiterated that Pakistan does not plan to hold peace talks with Taliban militants.

"I repeat no negotiations with the terrorists. We are not going to spare anybody who challenges the writ of the government," he said.

The arrests in Swat are the latest blow for the Taliban insurgents in Pakistan whose chief commander Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a suspected U.S missile attack on his hide out in the South Waziristan region near the Afghan border.

Pakistan launched a major offensive in and around Swat in late April to check the Taliban advances in the northwestern mountainous valley, once a popular tourist resort. The offensive came after the United States and other western allies criticized the Pakistani military for failing to rein in the extremists.

The military says the anti-insurgency operation in the area has so far killed nearly 2,000 Taliban militants and left more than 300 soldiers dead. Pakistani soldiers have cleared much of the Swat valley and surrounding areas but they say there are still pockets of resistance.

However, despite their successes, the Pakistani security forces had failed to kill or capture top Taliban leaders in the region until the announcement of spokesman Muslim Khan's arrest along with four other commanders on Friday. The top leader of the militants in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, is still at large.

Washington has praised the anti-insurgency operation in Swat and has given significant financial assistance to help Pakistan repatriate hundreds of thousands of families the offensive had displaced. Most of the internal refugees have now returned to their homes with foreign-funded assistance.

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