Page last updated at 17:16 GMT, Sunday, 15 February 2009

Taleban announce Swat ceasefire

Tribal areas map

Taleban fighters in north-west Pakistan's restive Swat valley have announced a 10-day ceasefire.

The move came after local officials signed a deal with a militant leader to enforce Islamic law in the district.

The ceasefire halts fighting between Pakistani security forces and Taleban militants in Swat that has raged since November 2007.

Once one of Pakistan's most popular holiday destinations, the Swat valley is now mostly under Taleban control.

Hundreds of civilians have died in an increasingly bloody insurgency there, while thousands of others have been forced to migrate.

The Taleban have set up their own system of Islamic justice, as they understand it, and have closed down schools, denying education to tens of thousands of children, says the BBC's M Ilyas Khan, who was recently in Swat.

Pakistani President Asif Zardari has warned that the entire country is fighting for its survival against the Taleban, whose influence he said has spread deep into the country.

In an interview with US TV network CBS, President Asif Zardari said the Taleban had established a presence across "huge parts" of Pakistan.

'Goodwill gesture'

The agreement was signed by Taleban cleric Sufi Mohammad after talks with the North West Frontier Province's government.

The agreement binds the provincial government to implement Sharia law in the Malakand division, which comprises Swat and its adjoining areas.

Local people fleeing Swat
Many people in Swat now would favour an early exit by the army as the they have failed to roll back the Taleban or protect the Taleban's opponents
The BBC's M Ilyas Khan

A militant spokesman, Muslim Khan, said the ceasefire was a "goodwill gesture to the ongoing talks between Sufi Mohammad and the government".

Talks on how Sharia law will be implemented are to continue on Monday between Taleban representatives and officials of the provincial government in the capital of North West Frontier Province, Peshawar, said Reuters news agency.

Details are to be formally announced at that time.

There has been no reaction so far from the Pakistani central government.

The Taleban say they will examine the document thoroughly before announcing a permanent end to hostilities.

Army exit urged

A Chinese engineer held hostage for five months had also been released as a sign of good faith, the militants said.

Long Xiaowei, who was captured last August in the Dir region with a Chinese colleague, arrived at China's embassy in Islamabad earlier on Sunday and was in good health, a Chinese official said.

The colleague escaped in October, the Taleban said at the time.

The people of Swat have been caught between the army and the Taleban, says our correspondent.

More than 1,000 civilians have died in shelling by the army or from beheadings sanctioned by the Taleban. Thousands more have been displaced.

The Taleban now control the entire countryside of Swat, limiting army control to parts of the valley's capital, Mingora.

Many people in Swat now would favour an early exit by the army as the they have failed to roll back the Taleban or protect the Taleban's opponents, says our correspondent.

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