Taliban expand control in NW Pakistan

April 22, 2009 12:00 am

, PESHAWAR, Apr 22 – Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Swat valley have moved into another district in a bid to broaden their control despite a peace deal, officials said.

Hundreds of armed Taliban from the scenic north-western valley have entered Buner district, only 110 kilometres (68 miles) from the capital Islamabad.

They have set up checkpoints, occupied mosques and ransacked the offices of non-governmental organisations, a local administration official said.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari earlier this month approved a deal to establish sharia courts in Malakand, a district of around three million people in the North West Frontier Province that includes the Swat valley.

Despite that accord, which was designed to end bitter unrest, the Taliban have not yet disarmed and are trying to exert control over the area.

"The Taliban who have arrived from Swat have increased patrolling, banned music in public transport and rampaged (through the) offices of NGOs and taken their vehicles," local government official Rashid Khan said.

"Taliban militants armed with rocket launchers were manning the checkpoints and operating from local mosques," he said, added that a report had been filed at the local police station against "unknown militants."

The central government lost control in Swat, a former ski resort and jewel in the crown of Pakistani tourism, after a violent two-year militant campaign to enforce strict Taliban-style sharia law.

Militants beheaded opponents, bombed schools and fought government forces, prompting tens of thousands of people to flee.

North West Frontier Province’s information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the government had fulfilled its promises in Malakand, "and the Taliban must lay down their arms."

"The militants’ activities in Buner are in violation of the peace accord. After the agreement there is no justification to take up arms," Hussain said, although he played down reports the Taliban had taken over the district.

"The government writ in Buner is intact," he said, adding that government officials had not abandoned the area.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Dir district, a senior administration official was kidnapped by "unknown" people, according to another official.


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