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ISLAMABAD – A van carrying Pakistani Frontier Corps security forces through the Buner district, less than 100 km from the capital, came under fire by Taliban forces April 23. One police official was killed and another wounded, authorities said.
The troops were sent to protect civilians and properties, said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, spokesman for Pakistan's military. He said the government was monitoring the situation closely, and talks were under way among community elders, the civilian administration and the Taliban.
The takeover of Buner brings the Taliban closer to the capital, Islamabad, than it has been since the insurgency started.
The Taliban commander in Buner, Mowlana Mohammed Khalil, made a statement before Pakistani television cameras April 22, appearing with his face hidden behind a cloth mask. "We came here only to preach Islam", he contended, adding that his fighters were carrying weapons only because they were an important symbol for Muslims.
The militants said they took control of the Buner district to ensure that Islamic law, or sharia, was properly imposed. The Pakistani government called the advance into the district a breach of a recently signed peace agreement.
Residents of Buner said the militants had set up checkpoints and were patrolling streets throughout the district. Sardar Hussain Babik, education minister for the North West Frontier Province, accused the militants of looting the offices of non-government organisations and stealing cars. "This is an open violation", Babik said. "It is the government's duty to re-assert its authority in the region."
Taliban militants implemented Islamic law in Pakistan's violence-plagued Swat Valley last week before taking control of the neighbouring Buner district. Taliban fighters moved into the Swat Valley as part of a peace deal with the government that has come under fire from Western observers.
"We have to establish control of government in Malakand division", which includes Swat, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said at a news briefing. "If peace is not restored in that area [Malakand], certainly we have to review our policy."