Militants free abducted Pakistani troops

Pakistan – Pro-Taliban militants on Monday freed more than 260 Pakistani troops who were kidnapped nearly two weeks ago in a restive tribal region near the border with Afghanistan, security officials and a militant said.The soldiers were handed over to members of a jirga, or tribal council, in Ladha, a village in the South Waziristan tribal area, where they had been abducted by militants on Aug. 30, a local intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his job.

Pakistan’s army spokesman said he could not immediately confirm the releases.

The freed soldiers were to be handed later Monday to government authorities in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan, a rugged region where al-Qaida and Taliban-linked militants operate, the intelligence official said.

It was not clear whether there were any conditions to the release. Militants had earlier demanded that authorities withdraw the military from the area and free more than a dozen of their comrades.

Six of the abducted troops were released last week in what an official said was a “goodwill” gesture to the jirga that was trying to negotiate their release.

Pakistan — a close U.S. ally in the war against terrorism — has deployed some 90,000 troops to the Pakistan-Afghan border region to track down militants.

In recent weeks militants have stepped up attacks against the military in the tribal regions along Afghanistan, adding to the government’s woes at a time of gathering political crisis in the country.

The U.S. has been pressing Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to do more to crackdown on militants in the region amid its concern that al-Qaida may be regrouping in there

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