Pakistani forces tighten noose around Taliban, Swat peace accord totters (Roundup)

Islamabad, April 27 (Inditop) Pakistani forces Monday tightened their noose around the Taliban on the second day of an air and land operation in the country’s troubled northwest, prompting the militants to suspend an accord to restore peace in the area.

The security forces had killed 20 militants and had retaken the Lower Dir district on Monday, Geo TV reported. It quoted security sources as saying Taliban commander Qari Quresh was killed by Frontier Corps troopers in the Maidan area of Lower Dir.

Paramilitary troops and helicopter gunships bombed suspected bases in Lower Dir for the second day running. Security forces have taken control of Lal Qila, a key militant stronghold in Maidan sub-district of Lower Dir, with the authorities also closing all schools in the area.

Indefinite curfew has also been imposed in the Lal Qila, Islampura, Kal Kot and other adjoining areas of the district.

Lower Dir lies about 170 km northwest of Islamabad, to the west of Swat. The two districts form a part of the Malakand division in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where President Asif Ali Zardari has approved the imposition of Sharia laws as part of a controversial peace deal with the Taliban that would have the militants laying down their arms.

Instead, the Taliban had last week moved south from their Swat headquarters to occupy Buner district, a little over 100 km from Islamabad. They later withdrew after being persuaded to do so by radical cleric Sufi Mohammad, who had brokered the peace deal.

Lower Dhir is Sufi Mohammad’s home district.

The Taliban had Sunday suspended the Swat peace accord after the security operation began and Monday, demanded the stoppage of military action.

Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan warned that attacks would be carried out in the entire Malakand region if the operations were not stopped.

“The government should stop the operation; otherwise Taliban will resume their activities,” Khan maintained.