Thursday, October 11, 2007

Baitullah Mehsud's Supporters display Pakistan army hostages

Picture: BBC - A militant with a Taleban flag on a captured army vehicle

Pakistan rebels display hostages
By Syed Shoaib Hasan: BBC News, October 11, 2007

South Waziristan: Pro-Taleban militants in Pakistan say the government is showing little urgency in securing the release of some 280 captured soldiers.
The militants captured them in the South Waziristan tribal region more than a month ago.

The BBC has been given exclusive access to the militants and the soldiers. The rebels are demanding the military withdraw from the area.

The US says the area is a haven for pro-Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters.

"We are very serious about the matter and want to resolve it peacefully," Zulfiqar Mehsud, a spokesman for militant leader Baitullah Mehsud told the BBC from the rebels' base near the border with Afghanistan.

"As far as the government's response is concerned it is better to ask them about it, but I believe they have several reasons for not being serious."

He said one was the political crisis in Islamabad over the presidential election.

He also said the government would be trying harder if one of the kidnapped soldiers "was the son or relative of a general or minister".


The militants also brought three of the soldiers to a walled compound to give the first accounts how they had been captured.

The soldiers did not want to talk but were pressurised by the Taleban to do so.

The commanding officer, Col Zafar, told the BBC that pro-Taleban tribesmen had stopped his convoy while he was taking supplies to remote army camps.

He said his superior officers instructed him to wait while they negotiated with the militant leadership.

This took more than four hours. By then the soldiers realised they were surrounded and it was too late to resist.

The soldiers said they have been treated well so far.

They were not aware that three of their comrades have already been killed by the militants in a move to put pressure on the government to accede to their demands.

The want the release of around 30 jailed comrades.

They also want the army to pull its troops out of their area, so they can freely cross the border to fight alongside Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan.

The capture of the soldiers was a major blow to the Pakistani army which is having to deal with lowering morale among its troops.

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