Original source:
Islamist guerillas indefinitely extended a ceasefire in Pakistan’s Swat Valley on Tuesday after the army suspended operations in the region.

Islamabad and pro-Taliban fighters have observed a truce in the district of North-West Frontier Province since February 15, when Pakistani authorities offered to introduce sharia law there if the Pashtun tribesmen, who are loyal to militant cleric Maulana Fazlullah, laid down their arms.

The ceasefire was due to expire today, but spokesman Muslim Khan said that guerillas had decided to extend it ‘for an indefinite period’ after Mr Fazlullah convened a consultative council in Swat’s Matta district.

‘Today, the shura met under Maulana Fazlullah and decided to hold a ceasefire for an indefinite period,’ Mr Khan reported.

‘We are releasing all prisoners unconditionally. Today, we released four paramilitary soldiers and we will release all security personnel in our custody as a goodwill gesture,’ he vowed.

He added: ‘From our side, there will be no hostility against the government and the army and we expect the same from them.’

The status of ongoing peace talks between Islamabad and the Islamists is not clear.

Forces loyal to Mr Fazlullah have reportedly blown up 200 girls’ schools in the two years that they have been fighting the government and the right of girls to attend school in Swat is still under discussion.

The Islamists apparently want to determine the type of sharia that is introduced and they are demanding that the Pakistani army completely pull out of the area, which is located just 80 miles north of Islamabad, and release all Taliban prisoners.

Pakistan says that it is committed to regaining control of the valley, which was a thriving tourist destination until recently.

But US officials have expressed scepticism about the willingness and ability of its security forces and have intensified missile strikes on alleged al-Qaida targets there.

About 1,200 civilians have been killed in the Pakistanconflict and an estimated 350,000 people have fled the district.

Its army chief and foreign minister are holding talks in Washington this week as the new US administration hammers out a new policy for the region.

Western governments have criticised the Swat truce, saying that it could create a safe haven for al-Qaida and the Taliban.

And Amnesty has expressed concern that the agreement could legitimise human rights abuses in the region.

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