MULTAN, Pakistan – Militants distributed fliers Thursday calling for one-month cease-fire in fighting with Pakistani forces in a volatile northern tribal region and talks with the government.
The pamphlets, which armed tribesmen circulated in towns and villages throughout North Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan, followed a weekend call by a local militant leader for a monthlong truce in violence that has killed scores of fighters and soldiers this year.
"We will work to ensure that the cease-fire holds and there is no violation of it," said the statement released in the name of the "Mujahedeen of North Waziristan." Several statements have been released in the past by the same group.
It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the statement, which if genuine could mark a turning point in violent relations between Taliban-linked insurgents and the Pakistani military in this semiautonomous region.
Pakistani officials were not immediately available for comment.
Local militants took up arms in 2002 against Pakistani forces that deployed to the region to prevent Taliban insurgents fleeing the U.S.-led invasion in neighboring Afghanistan into Pakistan.
Since that time, more than 650 Pakistani troops have been killed in ambushes, roadside bombings and suicide attacks. Many more militants, as well as local tribespeople, have also died during the conflict.
Over the weekend, a top commander of pro-Taliban Pakistani tribal militants telephoned news outlets, including The Associated Press, to announce the cease-fire.
But on Monday, a suicide car bomber rammed a checkpoint near North Waziristan's main town of Miran Shah and killed at least five soldiers, casting doubt on the validity of the truce offer.
Subsequent comments by the commander, Maulvi Sadiq Noor, and Thursday's statement were seen as reaffirming the truce and distancing some tribal militants from Monday's attack.
"Government officials can move freely (in the region)," Thursday's statement said. "Tribal representatives, tribal elders and religious leaders are also informed that they can freely meet with the government."
The statement said tribal and religious leaders should promote positive dialogue between the government and militants "so that there is no fighting between them again."
It was unclear what prompted the purported cease-fall call, but it follows the recent appointment of a retired Pakistani army general as the new governor of the North West Frontier Province, who is also responsible for running the tribal areas.
The general, Ali Mohammed Jan Aurakzai, has said he will try to ensure peace in tribal area without using force.
Militants have asked the government to pull back troops from the tribal areas. Pakistani authorities say they will redeploy their forces once the tribesmen expel foreign militants at large there.
Militants have also demanded the release of their detained fighters and compensation for tribesmen killed in army operations. They also want the government to allocate more funds for regional development.
The region borders Afghanistan and the frontier between both countries is believed to harbor hundreds of Arab, Afghan and Central Asian militants linked to Al Qaeda as well as Taliban fugitives from Afghanistan.
The increased troop presence on the Pakistani side of the border has angered the region's predominantly Pashtun tribespeople, who have close ethnic ties with Afghanistan's Pashtun majority. The Taliban are also Pashtun.