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Pakistani Army, Militants Open to Negotiations

Both the Pakistani army and anti-government militants in the remote tribal area of South Waziristan say they are open to negotiations to end months of fighting in the region.

Pakistani military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan says there is still room for talks with anti-government fighters in the semi-autonomous South Waziristan tribal agency.

Pakistan's army is currently conducting operations there to flush out suspected foreign terrorists, along with their local allies, who oppose Pakistan's alliance with the United States in its war on terrorism.

While Pakistan's government has long insisted that all foreign militants in the region must surrender, General Sultan says the army is willing to seek a negotiated settlement with the local fighters.

"All kinds of options are open, the negotiations as well as the military option," he said.

His remarks follow those of Abdullah Mehsud, a local anti-government commander.

Abdullah Mehsud told VOA that while he will continue to resist the military campaign against him and his forces, he is also open to talks.

He did not cite any specific conditions for such negotiations, but he did reiterate his objection to the army's hunt for alleged foreign terrorists, claiming such action is staged only to please the United States.

Abdullah Mehsud is wanted by Pakistani authorities in connection with last month's kidnapping of two Chinese engineers. One of the engineers was successfully rescued while the second died during the rescue attempt.

Pakistan has been conducting operations in its tribal area for more than a year, in an attempt to capture or kill foreign terrorist elements, including members of the al-Qaida network.

The military is also attempting to flush out militants staging a cross-border insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in neighboring Afghanistan.

More than 170 Pakistani soldiers, 250 militants and an unknown number of civilians have died in the fighting in South Waziristan since March.