PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Declaring that peace had been restored in part of Pakistan's restive tribal areas, Pakistani military officials have announced that their troops will abandon positions and checkpoints around the town of Wana in the South Waziristan tribal area.
"Peace has been restored in Wana," Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain, commander of Pakistani forces in the area, said Friday at a meeting with tribal elders. "Now the military will not apply force in any part of the area."
The move also appears to signal that the Pakistani military has dropped its central demand in the tribal areas: that all foreigners agree to come forward and register with the government.
But residents of Wana reported that militants continued to roam around the town, in some cases in even larger numbers.
There have been months of heavy fighting in South Waziristan, one of seven isolated tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where U.S. officials believe Osama bin Laden and other leaders of al-Qaida may be hiding. Pakistani military officials said that while checkpoints would be abandoned, several thousand troops would remain on the main military base in Wana. Pakistani officials say they have killed hundreds of foreign militants since March, but militants have killed at least 202 Pakistani government soldiers and wounded 467.
Pakistani military officials have sharply reduced their estimates for the number of militants hiding in the tribal areas. They say that only 70 to 80 foreign militants remain in the area, as opposed to earlier estimates of up to 500. Residents have said that local Pakistani tribesmen who fought alongside the Taliban, as well as Uzbeks and other foreign fighters, remain in the area.
The plan is a result of an agreement between the government and five wanted members of one the area's largest tribes, officials said. Hussain made his announcement after meeting with elders from the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe.
Three of the most-wanted Pakistani militants in the tribe, who attended the meeting, recently accepted amnesty from the government in exchange for renouncing both their attacks and support for foreign militants.