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Pakistani Taliban, army exchange prisoners

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — The Pakistani Taliban and the army exchanged prisoners Wednesday as a confidence-building measure ahead of possible peace talks, intelligence officials and militant commanders said.

The exchange included six militants and two paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers, the officials and commanders said. It occurred in the Shawal area of the South Waziristan tribal region. The militants were taken to neighboring North Waziristan, the country’s main Taliban sanctuary.

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Militants fired in the air with joy when their colleagues were freed, the intelligence officials said.

The two officials and two Taliban commanders spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pakistan’s military public affairs office denied the exchange occurred. But the intelligence officials and Taliban commanders provided the names of the militants who were freed and said the two paramilitary soldiers released were kidnapped by the Taliban in southwest Baluchistan province in March 2012.

The release occurred only days after Pakistan’s main political parties endorsed peace negotiations with the Taliban and their allies Monday as the best way to end a decadelong insurgency that has killed thousands of people.

The exchange was meant to build confidence between the government and the militants before formal peace talks, one of the Taliban commanders said.

Senior Taliban leaders are currently discussing whether to take the government up on its offer to hold negotiations, said the commander and one of his colleagues.

The Taliban said they were open to talks at the end of last year but withdrew that offer in May after the group’s deputy leader was killed in a US drone strike.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif campaigned on a platform of holding peace talks and has maintained that line since he took office in June. He scored a victory when his stance was endorsed by other parties on Monday — a decision that was generally welcomed by the Taliban.

But there are plenty of skeptics who doubt negotiations will bring lasting peace. The government has struck various peace deals with the Taliban in the past, but all have fallen apart.

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