Taleban extend ceasefire, ask Pakistan to meet demands

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - The Pakistani Taleban on Friday extended a ceasefire by six days to allow the government more time to meet their demands of releasing "non-combatant" prisoners and pulling back soldiers, the militia said in a statement.

The government began negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) through intermediaries in February to try to end the Islamists' bloody seven-year insurgency.

"We announce to extend the ceasefire till April 10 and TTP directs all Mujahedin to suspend their actions against government and security forces," spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said in a statement.

"Once again with full responsibility and seriousness TTP awaits a positive response from the government," he said and added that "despite the lapse of three days in ceasefire there was a mysterious silence on government side".

Mr Shahid said that the umbrella militant group had only demanded the release of what they called "non-combatant" prisoners and the establishment of a "peace zone" where security forces would not be present.

Last month the Taleban handed over a list of 300 people including women, children, and old men.

"If our demands are not met, a meeting of our Shura (council) will be convened to decide future course of action," Mr Shahid said.

On Wednesday, the government handed over 19 tribesmen based in South Waziristan, calling them "non-combatant Taliban prisoners".

But Mr Shahid denied the men had been sought by the group or were its members.

On March 26 a four-member government committee comprising three civil servants and a former diplomat held their first meeting with members of the TTP's political council in North Waziristan tribal district.

Both sides met in Islamabad for a meeting chaired by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan amid growing speculation that the negotiations had ended in a deadlock.

There have been suggestions that high-profile figures held by the militants, including the son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, could be freed in return.

The peace talks were a key campaign pledge for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.

But some analysts have voiced scepticism about their chances for success, given the Taleban's demands for nation wide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.

Regional deals struck in the past between the military and the Taliban have failed and some have accused the militants of using them as a means to regroup and rearm.

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