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Pakistani jets bomb militant hideout a day after Taliban ceasefire plan

Local elders point to their fruit orchards on a map showing lands, taken over by the army for a base, in the town of Khwazakhela in the nort
Local elders point to their fruit orchards on a map showing lands, taken over by the army for a base, in the town of Khwazakhela in the nort

By Jibran Ahmad

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani warplanes bombed the hideout of a militant leader, killing five insurgents, the military said on Sunday, only a day after the Pakistani Taliban declared a one-month ceasefire to pursue stalled peace talks with the government.

The target of the attack, Mullah Tamanchey, directed a deadly assault against a convoy carrying a polio vaccination team and security forces on Saturday in which 12 people were killed, the military said.

"The government is not going to tolerate any act of terror and any act will be replied to," said a Pakistani security official who asked not to be identified.

Hours after the attack on the convoy, the Taliban had said they would observe a one-month ceasefire to try to revive peace talks that failed last month. It also called on other militant groups to observe the ceasefire.

A government negotiator told Reuters they were open to restarting peace talks as long as the Taliban and its affiliates honored the ceasefire.

Tahir Ashrafi, head of the country's largest alliance of clerics, said that the Taliban should release kidnap victims, safeguard polio workers and produce the bodies of slain paramilitary forces to demonstrate their sincerity.

The government should release suspected militants from prison if there was no evidence against them, he said.

The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of militant groups, says it is fighting to overthrow the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and replace it with a state ruled under strict Islamic law.

Sharif has been pursuing peace talks since he was elected in May. Soon after the talks finally began on February 6 the Taliban bombed a police bus in Karachi, killing 13 people.

The talks foundered days later when a Taliban faction claimed to have killed 23 paramilitary forces. The same night the military began bombing areas in the northwest that it said were militant hideouts.

In recent weeks speculation has been mounting that the military would launch a ground operation in North Waziristan, a tribal region along the border with Afghanistan.

North Waziristan has long been regarded as stronghold for Afghan Taliban factions, the affiliated Haqqani group, and al Qaeda, as well as the Pakistani Taliban.

U.S. generals serving in Afghanistan have often complained that Pakistan, while fighting the Pakistani Taliban, has allowed other militant groups to have safe havens in its tribal regions.

Some analysts have speculated that the Pakistani Taliban's offer of a ceasefire is aimed at stalling an operation in North Waziristan.

Mullah Tamanchey, the target of Sunday's bombing, is the leader of a small militant faction affiliated with the Taliban and opposed polio vaccination. Some militants say the health campaign is a cover for spying or a plot to sterilize Muslims.

(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld and Mubasher Bukhari; Editing by Paul Tait and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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