Peace talks collapse as Taliban execute 23 Pakistani soldiers

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Militants said the killings were reprisals for alleged deaths of Taliban in custody
The Pakistani government has called off a round of peace talks with the Taliban after insurgents claimed they had executed 23 kidnapped soldiers in the country\’s north-west.
Taliban militants in Pakistan claim to have slaughtered 23 security forces who were being held captive – a devastating blow to controversial peace talks aimed at ending the Islamist insurgency that has plagued parts of the country for years. 
A faction of the outlawed Pakistani Taliban says the paramilitary troops were executed Sunday night to avenge what it alleged were killings of several militants in government custody within the past week.
 
The announcement came hours before a government delegation was to meet Taliban intermediaries for a fresh round of talks on Monday. The massacre provoked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to cancel the scheduled interaction.
 
Prime Minister Sharif has strongly condemned the killings of the Pakistani soldiers, saying it will have a negative effect on the peace process.
 
Putting to put the talks back on track will be a difficult task, said Rustum Shah Mohmand, a member of the government negotiating team.
 
“I think there is only one chance of protecting the process, if the main body of the TTP dissociates itself from the statement of Omar Khalid Khurasani, or if they try to explain that (he) is not perhaps an integral constituent of the (TTP) movement and that he has given the statement in his personal capacity or maybe to sabotage the (peace) process," Mohmand said. "That is the only way I think we can salvage this process.”
Army authorities describe the latest killings as a highly provocative terrorist act, saying Taliban allegations of “killing of terrorists in their custody are baseless and meant only to justify dastardly acts of terror.”
 
But the Sharif government remains under severe criticism for attempting to engage in peace talks with a group that has taken responsibility for murdering thousands of Pakistanis in recent years.
 
The TTP and its associate groups are mostly based in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal regions on the Afghan border where it has allegedly set up training camps to dispatch suicide bombers inside the country and send fighters for subversive acts in Afghanistan.
Source: VOA and agencies

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