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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 12:24 GMT
Pakistani militants 'call truce'
Baitullah Mehsud photographed in 2005
Baitullah Mehsud does not like to show his face to the media
A leading Pakistani militant group is reported to have declared a truce in the South Waziristan region and be willing to enter peace talks.

Few details have emerged about the terms of the truce, announced on Wednesday by Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan, a militant umbrella group.

The group's leader, Baitullah Mehsud, is accused by the government of being behind the murder of Benazir Bhutto.

Mr Mehsud's tribal stronghold adjoins the Afghan border.

The government has not confirmed the truce, but Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz said the national leadership was ready for a dialogue with the militants.

Correspondents say that unofficial talks between the two sides are now underway, with local clerics acting as mediators.

The BBC's Ilyas Khan in Pakistan says fighting in North and South Waziristan has stopped completely.

Soldier in South Waziristan
There has been heavy fighting recently in South Waziristan

Our correspondent says it is unclear whether this is because of recent heavy snowfall or because of the ceasefire.

The army says the fighting has ceased because the militants want to regroup and prepare new attacks.

Militant spokesman Maulvi Mohammed Umar told the BBC the truce would include the tribal belt along the Afghan border and the restive Swat region to the east, where the army has recently been fighting pro-Taleban fighters.

He said they have announced a unilateral ceasefire because the government has abandoned positions in the area and pulled back to their camps - a key militant demand.

Defence sources say troops that had earlier spread out over a large area of territory controlled by Mr Mehsud appear to have withdrawn from their positions.

Body exchanges

Our correspondent says there is now a possibility that Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior Taleban commander from south-eastern Afghanistan, may take part in the talks.

Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan
Fighting has now died down in North and South Waziristan

Such a development is not likely to be welcomed by the US and its Nato allies, who have strongly criticised earlier ceasefires in the Waziristan area, the most recent of which ended last year.

Mr Haqqani is widely believed to have negotiated a peace deal in February 2005 between Mr Mehsud and the military.

Correspondents also say that developments on the ground - such as body exchanges and prisoner releases - also indicate that negotiations are very much on the agenda.

Some observers argue that the problem of militancy in Pakistan is closely linked to events in Afghanistan, and that the Pakistani establishment will not authorise the complete destruction of pro-Taleban insurgents until the problem in Afghanistan has also been brought under control.

The authorities say that Mr Mehsud is linked to al-Qaeda, and is responsible for a series of suicide attacks across Pakistan.

He has denied any responsibility for Ms Bhutto's assassination.



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