Pakistan Taliban extends ceasefire

This follows the release of a batch of low-level prisoners by the Pakistani government.

Pakistani Shi'ite Muslims chant slogans during a protest against the negotiation between the Pakistani government and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Picture: AFP.

MIRAN SHAH, Pakistan - The Pakistani Taliban have extended their March ceasefire until 10 April, a spokesman said Friday, following the release of a batch of low-level prisoners by the Pakistani government.

"Tehreek-e-Taliban is once again showing seriousness and responsibility, and in order to wait for an answer from the government, is extending the ceasefire until 10 April," spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said.

"Mujahideen (holy fighters) are being ordered to cease all activities against the government and security forces for this period."

The Taliban, its fighters most active in the lawless northwest of the country, announced a month-long ceasefire on 1 March, but commanders were divided on whether to extend it, saying the government had failed to meet their demands.

They have presented a list of 800 prisoners they want released and have demanded that the Pakistani army withdraw from an unspecified border area near Afghanistan in order to create a "safe zone" for them.

On Thursday, the interior ministry said it had freed 16 low-level prisoners not actively involved in the insurgency as a trust-building measure with the Taliban.

It is not yet clear if the 16 men were on the list of 800 prisoners put forward by the Taliban. Shahid said the Taliban were checking.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took power last year promising to seek negotiations to end Pakistan's deadly insurgency.

The Taliban are fighting to impose a strict version of Islam across Pakistan and have said they do not recognise the democratically-elected government.

This is the second round of peace talks between the Taliban and the government. A first round in February broke down after a week, when the Taliban bombed a bus full of police then executed 23 hostages from a government paramilitary force.