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Taliban in Pakistan announce a cease-fire

Militants push for resumption of peace talks

ISLAMABAD — The Pakistani Taliban announced a monthlong cease-fire Saturday and urged the government to revive peace talks that broke down last month.

Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella organization of militants, urged the government to join the cease-fire and instructed all militant groups in the country to comply with the truce.

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“The senior leadership directs all constituents and groups to respect and fully abide by the cease-fire declaration and restrain themselves from all kinds of jihadist activities,” the Taliban spokesman said in a statement.

Publicly, Pakistani government officials welcomed the cease-fire and indicated that the peace talks, which began last month but were soon suspended, could be revived as soon as next week. But there was no official reaction from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office or the military.

“It is a welcome move,” said Irfan Siddiqui, the top government negotiator, according to reports by local news media.

Speaking on Pakistan’s Geo Television, Siddiqui said, “Today, we are seeing a big breakthrough,” according to the Associated Press.

Maulana Samiul Haq, a religious leader who represented the Taliban in peace talks with the government, also welcomed the cease-fire, describing it as a step toward ensuring peace in the country, which has been ravaged by more than a decade of militancy and terrorism.

“The Taliban have taken a step,” Haq said. “Now the government and military should take further steps to ensure durable peace.”

Shahid said the Taliban had received assurances from the government on some of its demands, though he did not elaborate. Other militant leaders told Reuters that the government promised to halt its attacks on the militants during the truce.

The Taliban have said that women, children, and elderly men have been taken into custody by the military, and have demanded their release as a condition for a cease-fire.

The military has denied the charges, but a government negotiator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the government had assured the Taliban of the release of any noncombatant detainees on “humanitarian grounds.” The Taliban also demanded a “demilitarized safe zone for direct talks,” the negotiator said.

Peace talks between the militants and the Pakistani government grew out of an initiative announced Jan. 29 by Sharif, who said he would pursue a dialogue with the Taliban despite their terrorist attacks and despite growing calls in Pakistan for military action against the militants.

But talks between the two sides yielded little — and the dialogue was suspended Feb. 17 after a faction of Taliban said it had killed 23 paramilitary soldiers in its custody.

Since then, the Pakistani military has struck militant hide-outs in North Waziristan and the Khyber tribal regions, killing dozens of militants, according to military officials.

There has been growing speculation in the country about plans for a military offensive in North Waziristan, the rugged tribal region where Taliban and foreign militants have found a haven.

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