| GEO Pakistan|
| Taliban to avoid combat: spokesman|
| Updated at: 1200 PST, Monday, May 25, 2009|
ISLAMABAD: Taliban militants will not attack the military in the main town of Pakistan's Swat Valley to avoid triggering battles that would result in civilian casualties and destruction, a militant spokesman said.
The army on Monday hailed the announcement as a sign that the outnumbered militants were ``staring defeat in the face,'' but Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan denied it was a call for a cease-fire and said the insurgents were not withdrawing from Mingora.
``This is a long war and we will fight it strategically,'' he told late Sunday from an undisclosed location in the valley. ``We will continue fighting until an Islamic system is enforced.''
Pakistan began the offensive last month against militants in the northwestern region after they ignored the terms of a cease-fire. Its Western allies, worried the nuclear-armed nation was buckling under the threat of the militants, have hailed the operation.
Close to 1.9 million people have fled the valley and surrounding districts, but up to 20,000 remain in Mingora, where the military entered Saturday after encircling it. Many of the estimated 4,000 militants in the valley are believed to be there, raising the prospect of bloody urban fighting.
Khan, the militant spokesman, said its troops would not engage the army in Mingora because ``we have seen when the army retaliate for our attacks they always kill civilians. Their attacks always damage public property. We do not want that,'' he said.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Monday that since 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. Commanders have said they aim to eliminate the militants in the valley and on Friday said any form of cease-fire was highly unlikely.