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Taliban Sets Condition For Peace talks

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Taliban fighters walk with their weapons

The Pakistani Taliban demanded Sunday that the government release militant prisoners and begin withdrawing troops from the group’s tribal sanctuary before they participate in peace talks, raising doubts about prospects for negotiations.

The demands came as a roadside bomb claimed by the Taliban killed a major general and two other soldiers as they were riding in a vehicle in the country’s northwest, the military said. The general was the top army commander in an area containing the Swat Valley, where the military carried out a major offensive against the Taliban in 2009, reports The Associated Press.

The Taliban’s leadership council issued the peace talk demands while meeting to discuss the government’s offer to negotiate, said the group’s spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid.

Pakistan’s major political parties endorsed peace talks with the Taliban last week as the best way to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed thousands. But it’s unclear what steps the government is willing to take to convince the militants to negotiate.

It’s also unclear what would be acceptable to the army, which has lost thousands of soldiers fighting the Taliban and is considered the country’s strongest institution.

“The Taliban have been deceived in the past in the name of peace, so the government will have to take some steps before the start of talks to assure the Taliban that the government is serious about the peace process,” Shahid told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The government must release Pakistani Taliban militant prisoners and show that it is withdrawing soldiers from the tribal region along the border with Afghanistan, Shahid said.

“If the government does not take these two steps, the peace process cannot go forward,” said Shahid.

Intelligence officials and militant commanders said the Taliban and the army exchanged a small number of prisoners last week, though the army denied the swap.

The army has carried out scores of operations against the Taliban in the tribal region, but the militants continue to carry out attacks.

The roadside bomb that killed Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi and two other soldiers Sunday was planted near the Afghan border in the Upper Dir district, the military said. Upper Dir and the Swat Valley are located in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Pakistani Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack.

Also Sunday, a roadside bomb killed one soldier and wounded another in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the country. On Saturday night, militants ambushed a group of tribal policemen riding in a vehicle near the northwest town of Bannu, killing two of them and wounding four others.

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