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Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 15:12 UK

Talks held on Pakistan peace deal

Pakistan soldiers in Buner district, 29 April, 2009
The military has launched an operation against militants in Dir and Buner

Talks have been held in north-west Pakistan in an effort to shore up a peace deal with the Taleban.

The cleric who negotiated the deal met North West Frontier Province (NWFP) officials to call for an end to the army operation against the Taleban.

Both sides said they backed the peace deal but no agreement was concluded on a truce.

The military said on Friday between 55 and 60 militants had been killed in fighting in the past 24 hours.

Army spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas said that troops were making progress in Buner.

'Positive' meeting

The talks were held between the cleric Sufi Muhammad and Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister of NWFP, in the town of Timergara, in Lower Dir.

"If the government enforces (Islamic law) in its true letter and spirit, I guarantee that the Taleban will lay down their arms and help restore peace in this region," Sufi Muhammad told reporters after the meeting.

Mr Hussain said: "Everything is being done to end militancy. Everything is being done for peace."

The meeting was described as positive, with both sides backing the peace deal. Future talks are planned but no date has been set.

Sufi Muhammad said there could be no direct talks with the Taleban until the military operation ended.

But the military has said it will continue its offensive to remove militants from the Lower Dir and Buner regions.

The Pakistani government and some Western nations are concerned that the Taleban are trying to extend their influence beyond the Swat Valley, an area which they largely control already.

The Taleban and the NWFP government this year agreed a deal that would bring Sharia law to large parts of the region in return for an end to the insurgency.

However, the Taleban have not laid down their arms.

Civilians flee

Maj-Gen Abbas said: "Fifty-five to 60 militants have been killed in the fighting over the past 24 hours [in Buner]."

Civilians in Buner

But he said the Taleban were putting up tough resistance, that there were foreign fighters among them and that they were well organised and armed with mortars and anti-aircraft machine guns.

Gen Abbas said that ground troops backed by helicopter gunships destroyed nine suicide vehicles and six vehicles of "fleeing militants".

Three "suicide motorcyclists" were shot dead by ground troops advancing on narrow mountain tracks, he said, while a suicide bomber blew up a booby-trapped house killing two paramilitary soldiers and wounding eight others, bringing the military's overall losses to 13 during the offensive.

Buner is less than 100km (60 miles) from the capital, Islamabad. Tens of thousands of people have fled the fighting in Dir and Buner.

The government has been heavily criticised for agreeing to the peace deal in Swat as militants based there continue to push into areas of north-west Pakistan.

The US - which wants Islamabad to defeat the Taleban and capture al-Qaeda leaders it believes are in Pakistan - has become especially alarmed.

Its senior commander in the region, Gen David Petraeus, said that the next two weeks were critical for the country's survival.

Earlier, suspected Taleban militants abducted and then released 10 paramilitary soldiers in the Dir area.

The paramilitary soldiers were abducted at 0200 on Friday (2200 GMT Thursday) after the insurgents surrounded their checkpoint, police said.

Pakistan map showing Dagar



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