- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) — Baitullah Mehsud, a Pashtun militant leader accused of organizing the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December, has put out word to his followers to cease attacks in Pakistan.

“All members of Tehrik-e-Taliban are ordered by Baitullah Mehsud that a ban is imposed on provocative activities for the sake of peace,” the group said in a leaflet distributed in the South Waziristan region and nearby towns close to the Afghan border.

The group is an umbrella organization, formed last year, of various militant groups based in Pakistan’s Pashtun border lands, and led by Mehsud.

A military spokesman declined to comment on the cease-fire or that the government is negotiating with the group. The U.S. opposes talks with Pakistani militants.

The spokesman denied a militant claim that government troops had begun withdrawing from positions in South Waziristan.

The top Interior Ministry official, Rehman Malik, welcomed the cease-fire: “If he’s said it, we welcome it,” Mr. Malik told reporters, adding that Mehsud had denied killing Mrs. Bhutto.

The militant group said in the leaflets that anyone who defied the cease-fire order would be strung up in public.

The new coalition government, led by Mrs. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, has started negotiations in a bid to break with the policies of President Pervez Musharraf, whose support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism is deeply unpopular and who many Pakistanis say only incited militant violence.

Earlier, Mehsud’s spokesman, Maulvi Omar, said the talks with the government were making progress and he welcomed the release of Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric who sent thousands of militants to Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces who overthrew the Taliban in 2001. Detained in 2002, he was freed Monday.

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