Pakistani Taliban free 29 police and soldiers
MINGORA, Pakistan |
MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani Taliban released on Wednesday 29 paramilitary soldiers and policemen they had captured in a raid on a police station in the Swat valley in the northwest, two of the captured men said.
Security has deteriorated sharply in northwestern Pakistani areas along the Afghan border, as well as the Swat valley where troops are struggling to stem spreading Taliban influence.
In the latest violence, militants attacked and destroyed a police station in Shamzoi village in Swat, and captured the 29 men after a siege of more than 24 hours, police said earlier.
"They have released all of us. They did not harm us," said policemen Abdul Haq, one of the two men who spoke to Reuters by telephone after their release.
"The Taliban have given us a new lease of life," he said.
A Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, said the Taliban had released the captives after they had promised to quit their jobs and not act to against the militants.
The Swat valley, 130 km (80 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad, was for years a main tourist destination.
Militants infiltrated into the valley from al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds on the Afghan border, to the west of the valley, and began battling security forces in 2007 while trying to impose strict Islamist rule.
Residents say the militants have gained control of virtually the whole valley, which has become a test of the government's determination to tackle the spread of the Taliban.
Earlier, senior police intelligence official Mohabat Khan said the 23 members of the paramilitary Frontier Corps and six policemen had been captured after apparently running out of ammunition when the militants besieged the police station.
Military officials said troops had been sent to Shamzoi on Tuesday to try and help the men surrounded in the station but the rescuers came under attack and four soldiers were killed.
Haq and his colleague criticised the security forces for failing to help them.
"We were ready to sacrifice our lives for the country but everyone turned their back on us when we needed help," Haq said.
Fighting in the valley has intensified since army chief General Ashfaq Kayani visited last week vowing to reimpose government control.
The military says dozens of militants had been killed in recent days but residents said about 40 civilians had also been killed, many in shelling and air attacks by government forces aimed at the militants.
Caught between the military and the Taliban, tens of thousands of residents have fled from the valley.
Elsewhere in the northwest, militants attacked trucks beside the road from the northwestern city of Peshawar through the Khyber Pass to the Afghan border, burning eight transport containers, district government officials said.
The road is the main route for supplies bound for Western forces in land-locked Afghanistan, and all traffic along it was suspended on Tuesday after militants blew up a bridge.
The containers that were destroyed had been unloaded at the Afghan border and were empty, the officials said.
Paramilitary forces are working to restore traffic on the road by clearing a route across a dried-up river to bypass the destroyed bridge. Some small vehicles were able to get past the
bridge on Wednesday, residents said.
Separately, police killed eight gunmen in a shootout on the outskirts of Peshawar. Police said the men were members of a kidnapping gang.
(Additional reporting by Faris Ali; Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel and Paul Tait)
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