Pakistan releases Taliban prisoners
Pakistani officials have released 12 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture, following a pact signed last month. The release on Saturday night is a bid by authorities to consolidate a deal with Taliban fighters in the troubled Swat valley, a senior government official said.

It followed talks between North West Frontier Province (NWFP) officials and Taliban and Islamist groups representatives.

"It was one of the demands of the Taliban. It was a goodwill gesture," Syed Mohammad Javed, the commissioner of Swat, said on Sunday.

"We have fulfilled it and we hope now they will play their part for peace," Javed said.

The release is likely to heighten unease among Western nations that such conciliatory measures towards the Taliban will only embolden them and provide safe haven for opposition fighters.

Sharia (Islamic law) was enforced in the Swat valley, in the NWFP, after regional authorities made a deal with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, an influential local cleric.

Last month's agreement was made in the hope that Mohammad could rein in opposition fighters.

A ceasefire was announced by the Taliban on February 24 and the military suspended operaions in the Swat valley, 130km north of Islamabad, the capital.

The NWFP is the focal point for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Pakistan and a launching zone for attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan.
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