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Pakistani Tribesman Refuse to Reveal Militants Hideouts - 2004-05-11


In Pakistan, renegade tribesmen are refusing to provide the government details of suspected foreign militants believed to be hiding in a remote border region. Authorities insist they need the information to determine if the foreigners have links with al Qaida or any other terrorist organization.

Pakistani officials and tribal elders in the South Waziristan region have been pressing the renegade tribesmen to persuade the foreigners to lay down their arms and register themselves. In return, the government has promised to pardon the suspected foreign militants and allow them to live freely in the area.

Reports say the suspected al Qaida members refuse to be identified and photographed. Local supporters deny the foreigners have links with terror groups.

But the Pakistani government says its anti-terror campaign along the western border with Afghanistan requires that all foreigners in the region must be documented.

"If there are foreigners living there, they must be registered," said Masood Khan, the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Islamabad. "There cannot be any compromise on the question of documentation. All aliens have to register. There is a war on terrorism going on, and the most affected region is the Pak-Afghanistan border. And you have to step up your operations there to ensure that there are not terrorists there."

Mr. Khan says the registration of foreigners is part of the agreement the government signed with renegade tribesman in the area last month. The deal offers amnesty to all foreign fighters if they give themselves up. However, the amnesty does not apply to senior al Qaida leaders, including the group's chief, Osama bin Laden.

A key pro-al Qaida tribal leader, Nek Mohammed, who negotiated the deal with the government, insists that there is no provision for registering foreigners in the agreement.

Discussions between tribal elders and Mr. Mohammed continued Tuesday without any results.

In March, a military offensive in the border area killed nearly 50 Pakistani soldiers and more than 60 suspected militants. To avoid a repeat of the bloody operation, the government is trying to negotiate a settlement.

Pakistan is under pressure from the United States to eliminate suspected terrorist bases along the border. U.S.-led anti-terror forces believe the militants are slipping across the porous border to kill foreign and local troops as well as aid workers in Afghanistan.

A top U.S. diplomat, Christina Rocca, arrived in Islamabad Tuesday for meetings with Pakistani leaders. Among other subjects, officials say she is expected to discuss Pakistan's anti-terror efforts.

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