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Pakistan - Swat valley

Islamists take over another district after Malakand deal

Article published on the 2009-04-22 Latest update 2009-04-22 14:58 TU

A woman wearing a burqa carries her child through the streets of Peshawar, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province(Photo: Reuters)

A woman wearing a burqa carries her child through the streets of Peshawar, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province
(Photo: Reuters)

Armed Taliban fighters have taken over the Pakistani district of Buner, setting up checkpoints, occupying mosques and ransacking NGO offices. They have spread from Malakand district, where Pakistan's government agreed to the imposition of their interpreration of Islamic sharia law to try and end armed conflict in the Swat valley.

Hundreds of armed Taliban from Swat valley have moved into Buner district, which is only 110 kilometers from the capital, Islamabad, and say they will soon set up Islamic courts and an FM radio station.

Their leader, Maulana Fazlullah, is nicknamed Mullah Radio because he spread his influence by broadcasts in the Swat valley.

Fighters armed with rocket launchers are manning checkpoints and operating from mosques, according to local officials. They also say that the Islamists have banned music on public transport. A report had been filed at the local police station against "unknown militants".

The Taliban claim that local people asked them to intervene to provide speedy justice through Islamic judges whom they appoint. But they say that they will not interfere with the work of the police.

The Taliban started moving into Buner's Gokand valley on 4 April, according to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, which says that they have gone on a "looting spree".

"They have robbed government and NGO offices of vehicles, computers, printers, generators, edible oil containers, and food and nutrition packets," the paper reports. It says that some politicians, NGO workers and businessmen, along with local leaders who tried to set up an anti-Taliban militia, have fled the area.

Dawn says that the Taliban are continuing to spread through the area and are advancing on Mardan, the hometown of the province's Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti.

Pro-Taliban cleric Soofi Mohammad was reported to have pledged to spread sharia law, when the Malakand deal was accepted by the government.

Soofi Mohammad has failed to keep a promise to persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms, says correspondent Behroz Khan.

"The militants are using the promulgation of this ordinance as a tool to expand the domain and establish their writ in other parts," he told RFI.

"The impression is that this is a violation of the agreement by the militants and a setback for the government because the government did not take measures to stop these militants from spreading to other areas."

Interview: Peshawar correspondent Behroz Khan

22/04/2009 by Salil Sarkar

Polticians who control North West Frontier Province, in which the districts are situated, are playing down the reports but accuse the Taliban of breaking the Malakand agreement.

"The militants' activities in Buner are in violation of the peace accord," said Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain. "After the agreement there is no justification to take up arms."

In neighbouring Dir district a senior official is reported to have been kidnapped by unknown people.