ISLAMABAD - The Taliban urged civilians Monday to return to the main town in Pakistan's Swat Valley, promising they won't attack security forces battling insurgents there but stopping short of calling the move a ceasefire.
The army has already ruled out halting its operation in the valley, saying such an announcement was a sign that the outnumbered insurgents were "staring defeat in the face."
Pakistan began the month-old offensive against militants in Swat and surrounding areas after they ignored the terms of a peace deal. U.S. and other western allies have hailed the operation amid worries the country was not doing enough to root out militants who use its soil to stage attacks across the border in Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan framed the militants' decision to stop attacking troops in Mingora town as due to concern for the safety of civilians and property.
"I would like to appeal to the people of Mingora to get back to their homes and start their routine life as we will not fire even a single shot," Khan told The Associated Press in a phone call from an undisclosed location.
Asked if that meant a ceasefire, he added, "No, this is not like that. Our aides will remain there in Mingora, but we will not attack, we will not fire shots."
The army says it secured several major intersections in Mingora, an urban centre that under normal circumstances has at least 375,000 residents. Many of the extremists were fleeing Mingora for Kabal, a town to the west, but government forces are trying to secure that locality as well, an army statement said Monday.
Troops also have secured Malam Jabba - the site of a ski resort that militants wrecked last year - which the army said the Taliban were using as a training centre and logistics base.
The army statement Monday afternoon said in the previous 24 hours, four suspected militants were killed and eight were arrested in the valley, while six security personnel were wounded.
In rejecting the Taliban's pledge to stop fighting, which Muslim Khan first made late Sunday in another AP interview, army spokesman Maj.-Gen. Athar Abbas said the militants "have started using ploys to escape. They are now remembering the civilians whom they used to behead and decapitate."
He said the operation in the city would go on as planned.