Amnesty offer for all who lay down arms

ISLAMABAD, July 6(Daily Times): President General Pervez Musharraf on Thursday approved a plan to extend a general amnesty to about 100 militants still holed up inside Lal Masjid, provided they lay down their weapons and surrender to the security forces, sources said.

They said the decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Gen Musharraf at the presidential camp office in Rawalpindi.

The sources said that the government had decided to withdraw all criminal cases filed since February against the 100 or so militants, including Lal Masjid deputy cleric Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, provided they surrender.

Clashes between security forces and militant students have left 19 people dead and some 100 injured since Tuesday morning, according to official figures.

The sources said that the proposal for withdrawal of cases against the militants came from intelligence and security officials, who suggested that the militants had taken Ghazi hostage. The meeting was informed that the militants holed up inside the mosque were wanted by the police in several cases of terrorism, including bombing of imambargahs, said the sources.

They said the meeting also decided to send a delegation comprising political and religious figures to the mosque to convey the proposal to the Lal Masjid administration.

However, the sources said, Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz, member of the National Assembly from Karak, and Ejazul Haq, religious affairs minister, had refused to accompany or lead the delegation.

The sources said the proposed plan could be passed on to the militants through backdoor channels or through the media if a suitable delegation failed to materialise.

Meanwhile, National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) Director General Brig (r) Javed Iqbal Cheema told a press conference that Gen Musharraf had directed officials to give the maximum time to the militants of Lal Masjid in order to provide safe passage to girl students still in the mosque.

He said the president had directed the authorities to provide parents and relatives safe access to their freed children. "More time could be given to the law-enforcement agencies so that human loss could be averted," Cheema quoted the president as having said.

Gen Musharraf also directed the security forces to complete the operation as swiftly as possible.

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