MATTA, Pakistan (AFP) — Islamic militants took about 120 police and paramilitary soldiers hostage overnight in northwest Pakistan but released them Saturday after disarming them, a rebel spokesman said.
The men were seized in the town of Matta in the scenic Swat valley in North West Frontier Province after militants besieged their post late Friday.
"Around 120 policemen and paramilitary soldiers surrendered after they were surrounded," spokesman Sirajuddin said.
"We released them on Saturday because they agreed to return to their homes and not to fight with Muslim brothers," the spokesman, who goes by one name only, told AFP.
"Our mujahedeen (holy warriors) are in control of the police station."
It was the second time in a week militants loyal to pro-Taliban cleric Mullah Fazlullah have taken security personnel captive.
Earlier, 48 men said to be paramilitary soldiers were seized by extremists in Khawazakhela town. They were released after being paraded before media on Friday.
Provincial authorities denied the first incident and declined to comment on the latest capture of security personnel.
An AFP correspondent witnessed masked men brandishing assault rifles, rocket launchers and traditional curved Swati swords setting up checkposts in Matta and Khawazakhela.
The militants were seen moving in police vehicles they had captured from the security forces, witnesses said.
Sirajuddin said the militants were demanding the government immediately enforce Sharia law, pull out paramilitary and regular army troops and scrap criminal cases against Fazlullah and his followers.
Local officials said a tribal council has been convened and is holding talks with militants to stabilise the region, known for its natural beauty and which attracted tourists from around the world to see its ancient Buddhist heritage.
The government moved 2,500 troops into Swat last week to counter Fazlullah, who is also known as "Mullah Radio" for his speeches on his private radio station, in which he calls for a holy war on the authorities.
Officially, more than 150 militants have been killed in clashes with security forces in the past week.
The violence in Swat has fuelled fears of a spillover from the troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, where 90,000 Pakistani troops are combating Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
On October 25, 30 people were killed in a bomb attack on a paramilitary vehicle in the region.
The upsurge in violence blamed on Islamic militants has added to the mounting worries of key US ally President Pervez Musharraf, who is struggling to retain his hold on power eight years after he grabbed power in a military coup.
Musharraf met with visiting US Central Command chief Admiral William Fallon on Friday and assured him of the country's commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism, officials said.
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