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Violence Flares In Pakistan's Swat Valley Region

Violence Flares in Pakistan's Swat Region; Taliban Abduct Police Officers

Residents of Pakistan's Swat Valley say hundreds of pro-Taliban militants surrounded a security post and abducted at least 25 police officers on Tuesday. Earlier, militants in the region claimed they killed three intelligence agents. The clashes threaten Swat's fragile two-month-old peace accord.

Local residents said hundreds of militants surrounded the security post near the town of Matta on Tuesday, and threatened to kill the police officers inside unless they surrendered. The officers put down their weapons and were forced to march out of town to an undisclosed location.

Earlier, militants claimed responsibility for killing three intelligence agents in Swat on Monday. A spokesman for the group, led by local radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, said the killings were retribution for the alleged torture of militants in the custody of intelligence agencies.

Last week Fazlullah's top commanders held a high profile meeting in Swat and threatened to end the peace deal that was struck with the provincial government in late May. The militants said the provincial government has too little power and has been unable to stop Pakistani security forces from continuing to arrest fighters in the region. The group said it wants to negotiate a new agreement with the federal government.

On Tuesday, a provincial government representative told VOA that, despite the violence, the existing peace agreement remains intact. Wajid Ali Khan, who helped broker the agreement, urged government officials and Taliban fighters to uphold the deal.

Khan says this agreement came after a long debate, and it remains in effect. He says he hopes that both sides can work to implement the accord before what he called a major disaster happens.

The Swat peace agreement is one of several cease-fire deals brokered by government officials and tribal elders with various militant groups in the country. Nearly all of the groups are located in Pakistan's volatile northwest, where they have banded together into a loose network, led by Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region.

The peace accords have been blamed by Afghan and Western military officials for contributing to a spike in violence in neighboring Afghanistan.

-- By Barry Newhouse, Islamabad


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