120 soldiers released as Pakistan considers Sharia in Swat


Islamabad : Islamic militants Saturday released 120 soldiers they had captured after nine days of fierce fighting in Pakistan’s north-western valley of Swat, as the government said it was considering enforcement of Islamic laws to meet their demands.

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They have gone to their home towns and they have promised not to work with the security forces in the future,” the militants’ spokesman Maulana Sirajuddin told reporters.

“They had surrendered voluntarily on Friday night because we assured them that they would be allowed to return to their homes safely,” he added.

The law enforcers, mainly policemen and paramilitary troops, gave themselves up after being under siege at a police station and a hospital in the Matta area since Oct 26, when clashes erupted there following deployment of government forces.

The forces were sent to the area to curb a rebellion by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah and his armed followers, who were demanding imposition of Taliban-like rule in Swat, some 160 km from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) capital Peshawar.

Hundreds of heavily armed extremists exchanged heavy fire with the security forces, which pounded their positions in the mountains with artillery fire.

Helicopter gun ships were also used in the firefight, which left more than 200 people dead, including dozens of government troops, and hundreds injured.

Earlier, the rebels surrounded and disarmed 48 paramilitary soldiers Thursday, who were released again Friday.

“We did not want to fight these Muslims brothers (militants) who are striving for the enforcement of Islamic sharia (law),” a captive told reporters before the release.

The major part of the scenic valley remained under the control of Fazlullah and his followers.

Following the surrender of the security personnel, the militants took over the police station in Matta area and were entrenched on its rooftop, residents said.

The rebels were also patrolling the area in police cars and the vehicles of the paramilitary forces.

Meanwhile, media reports suggested Saturday that Pakistan was considering enforcement of Islamic laws in Swat and nearby areas to meet the demands of pro-Taliban militants.

“The government is considering the implementation of Sharia law in the view of the demands of the local people,” said Governor NWFP Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai.

The militant commander, Fazlullah, is reportedly being aided by several dozen Al Qaeda militants, who fled into the area after US-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

But his spokesman said the resistance was totally indigenous at the moment.

“We have not yet asked our brothers in tribal areas and Afghanistan for help,” Sirajuddin said.