Taleban warn Pakistan government over executions

ISLAMABAD (REUTERS) - Pakistan will execute two jailed militants next week, ending a five-year moratorium on capital punishment, a move condemned by the Pakistani Taleban as an act of war sure to trigger more violence.

Pakistan's new government, trying to display its resolve in fighting crime and militancy, overturned the moratorium on the death penalty in June.

A senior prison official in the southern province of Sindh told Reuters that four convicted criminals, including two militants from the radical Sunni group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, would be hanged at the Sukkur Jail between Aug 20 and 22.

Another senior jail official identified the two as Attaullah alias Qasim and Mohammad Azam alias Sharif. Both were sentenced to death in July 2004 after being found guilty of killing Shia doctor Ali Raza Peerani in Karachi in 2001.

The Taleban responded with fury in a pamphlet distributed in the tribal regions of North and South Waziristan bordering Afghanistan where most militant groups are based.

"If the prisoners are executed it would amount to a declaration of war on the part of the PML-N's (ruling party) government," said the pamphlet, obtained by Reuters.

The government of the new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, overturned the moratorium on the death penalty shortly after coming to power in a May election, a decision condemned by international rights groups such as Amnesty International.

"We are opposed to capital punishment. We demand that the death penalty should not be awarded to anyone," I.A. Rehman, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told Reuters.

Pakistani authorities say capital punishment is key to deterring crime as well as militancy in areas on the Afghan border, where Taleban militants launch daily attacks.

Up to 8,000 inmates are believed to languish on death row in dozens of Pakistan's overcrowded prisons.

The state of Pakistani jails jumped to the top of the government's agenda this month after a jailbreak in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan in which 250 inmates escaped, including Taleban militants.

That attack came a year after a similar mass jailbreak in the northern town of Bannu. Security has been tightened at jails around the country, but there are fears that the Taleban might be plotting similar attacks.

"It's a very sensitive situation here," Sukkur police chief Irfan Baluch said by telephone. "We have scaled up security on the outer cordon of the Sukkur Jail, around 50 police and an equal number of paramilitary Rangers are guarding the prison."

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