Pakistani official swapped for Taliban militants in Swat

February 23rd, 2009 - 3:08 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Feb 23 (DPA) Taliban militants in Pakistan’s troubled Swat district have swapped a senior government administrator and his six guards for three of their comrades, media reports said Monday.
Khushhal Khan, who was designated as the head of Swat’s administration, was kidnapped Sunday along with his police escort by gunmen on the outskirts Mingora, the main town of the district, and held captive in Qamber area for several hours.

Khun was travelling to Mingora to assume his new position.

The militants initially denied kidnapping the official and said Khan was their “guest” whom they picked up for “discussing important issues”, the English-language Dawn newspaper reported. But late in the night they confirmed the swap.

“We have released the official and his six guards in exchange for our two colleagues,” Dawn quoted Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan as saying. Khan said a third militant would also be freed soon.

The kidnapping came days after the authorities and a hard-line cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad signed an agreement to enforce Islamic Shariat laws in the region as soon as peace was restored there.

“The government violated the agreement by arresting our men in Peshawar and killing one in Dir. Therefore, we had to do this,” Khan said.

A member of the provincial cabinet in the North-West Frontier Province where Swat is located criticised the abduction, declaring it “senseless.”

The incident could undermine the peace process and the militants were also aware of it, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told The News daily.

Besides hundreds of militants and government troops, more than 1,200 people are believed to have been killed in nearly 16 months of fighting in Swat, which used to be a popular tourist destination for its serene settings and trout streams.

The Taliban are observing a 10-day ceasefire that ends Wednesday. A government official announce a “permanent ceasefire,” but rebel commander Maulana Fazlullah said their Shura council would consider any extension to the truce once their own deadline was over.

Fazlullah said the decision would be based on the progress on enforcement of Shariat laws in the region.

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