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Pakistan Taliban extend cease-fire, demand prisoner release

From Zahir Shah Sherazi, CNN
updated 1:49 PM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's cease-fire with Pakistani government extended to April 10
  • Cease-fire was agreed upon on March 1
  • Militant group is demanding release of noncombatants
  • Pakistani government officials met with Taliban this week to promote peace

(CNN) -- The main Pakistani Taliban extended a cease-fire deadline until April 10, the militant group said Friday.

The move came two days after the group met with Pakistan officials and made demands. The cease-fire was initially agreed upon on March 1.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, which has been waging an insurgency against the Pakistani government, said it is still awaiting a reply from the government regarding the demands, including the release of noncombatants.

At least 19 Taliban noncombatants were released earlier on the directive of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said Shaukatullah Khan, governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

The release is a goodwill gesture that will help promote peace talks, Khan said, speaking at a seminar in Peshawar. The prime minister is supervising the talks process, which are going in a positive direction, according to Khan.

In the first direct contact between the two sides, Pakistani government representatives met the Taliban for peace talks Wednesday in the tribal region of North Waziristan.

The government team flew by helicopter from Peshawar to meet the Taliban negotiators at an undisclosed location, sources and state media said.

TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told CNN the talks, which ended Wednesday evening, were held in a conducive environment. He said a consensus emerged on the exchange of noncombatants held by both sides.

Sharif announced the peace initiative this year, but talks broke down last month in the wake of attacks by the Taliban.

The militants, who are fighting for their austere version of Sharia law across Pakistan, have repeatedly rejected the country's constitution.

Since taking office last year, Sharif faced mounting pressure to bring the violence under control.

Journalist Zahir Shah Sherazi reported from Peshawar, Pakistan, and CNN's Michael Martinez contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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