NATO voices concern on truce between Pakistan, Taliban militants in area bordering Afghanistan

MINGORA, Pakistan (AP) âÄî NATO led a growing chorus of international concern Tuesday by warning that a truce between the government of Pakistan and Taliban militants in a restive region near the Afghan border risks giving the extremists a âÄúsafe haven.âÄù A hard-line cleric sent to the battle-scarred Swat Valley to negotiate with the Taliban received a heroâÄôs welcome there by crowds shouting âÄúLong live Islam! Long live peace!âÄù The cleric, Sufi Muhammad, expressed hope the militants would give up their arms to honor the pact, which imposes Islamic law and suspends a military offensive in the former tourist haven and nearby areas. NATO has 55,000 troops in Afghanistan, and many face attacks by Taliban and al-Qaida fighters believed to find refuge in pockets of PakistanâÄôs northwest. In the last few months, Swat has largely fallen to militants who have beheaded opponents, burned scores of girlsâÄô schools and banned many forms of entertainment. Gunbattles between security forces and militants have killed hundreds, while up to a third of the valleyâÄôs 1.5 million people have fled. The truce âÄúis certainly reason for concern,âÄù NATO spokesman James Appathurai said in Brussels. âÄúWe should all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have a safe haven. Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.âÄù