MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan – Hundreds of army troops withdrew from posts Sunday in a tribal region where it's believed Usama bin Laden may be hiding, as an intelligence official said Islamic militants and the government were close to unveiling a peace deal.
However, there were conflicting accounts as to whether the deal has been formally signed.
The militants had long been demanding troop removals from security posts in North Waziristan, a tense region near the Afghan border.
About 250 troops have pulled back from 11 roadblocks in the area's main town, Miran Shah, the intelligence official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of his work.
An unspecified number of troops have also left posts guarding two key government buildings, he said.
Military spokesmen did not immediately confirm the withdrawal.
Pakistan has deployed more than 80,000 troops in North Waziristan and other areas along the Afghan border where many believe Al Qaeda chief Usama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are hiding.
The military has carried out several operations against militants in North Waziristan in recent years, sometimes with civilians reported among the casualties.
Security officials have said that Arab, Afghan and Central Asian militants — allegedly linked with Al Qaeda — as well as area tribesmen suspected of ties with Afghanistan's radical Taliban militia — operate in North Waziristan.
Under an agreement widely expected to be unveiled by the government this week, no militant will attack government officials or security forces in the region.
In return, troops there "will not carry out operations against them," a separate intelligence official in the area had said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Sunday's troop withdrawal came a day after two other intelligence agents in Miran Shah said that militants, encouraged by a tribal council mediating for peace in North Waziristan, had signed an agreement to ensure "permanent peace" in the region, which borders Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the North West Frontier Province's governor, who administers North Waziristan, said Sunday that peace negotiations were "moving forward" between government officials and a jirga or council of tribal elders militants and government officials.
However, he did not acknowledge that any agreement had yet been inked. "The two sides are quite close to signing an agreement," said the spokesman, Shah Zaman Khan.
It was not immediately clear why the intelligence agents and the spokesman gave differing accounts as to whether a deal had been signed. Khan gave no further details.