updated 10/29/2007 1:49:23 AM ET 2007-10-29T05:49:23

Militants who follow a pro-Taliban cleric in troubled northwestern Pakistan agreed to a cease-fire Monday, a day after security forces backed by helicopter gunships targeted their hide-outs, killing dozens of suspected insurgents, officials said.

Residents said they had not heard any gunshots early Monday in Swat, a mountainous valley where the government has battled supporters of cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who has launched a Taliban-style Islamization campaign in the once-peaceful and scenic district. He has also called for a holy war against the government.

"This is a good thing that the militants have agreed to the cease-fire, and we welcome it," Arshad Majid, the district coordination officer in Swat, told The Associated Press by telephone.

However, he would not say how many militants or security forces had been killed in the fighting in Swat since Friday when Fazlullah's supporters began ambushing security forces. Between 50-60 Islamist militants were killed during fierce fighting in the restive region on Sunday, the Army said on Monday.

"The reports which I have from the police and Frontier Corps people who were doing this law enforcement action was about 50-60 militants died yesterday," Army spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said.

Surge in violence
Swat, a scenic valley close to Pakistan's lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, has seen a surge in militant activity since Maulana Fazlullah, a pro-Taliban cleric, reportedly launched an illegal FM radio station and urged a jihad, or Muslim holy war.

The upsurge in violence in Swat has shaken the authority of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S. war on terror, and the latest violence represents an escalation in tensions between his government and the rebels.

Washington considers Musharraf a source of stability in a nuclear-armed country fighting militants in the northwest along the border with Afghanistan, an area where some think Osama bin Laden may be hiding.

Mohammed Ijaj, an official at Swat Hospital, said Monday that they received 11 injured civilians overnight amid fighting between militants and security forces, and that all of them were listed in a stable condition.

"We didn't hear any firing today," he said.

Authorities sent 2,500 paramilitary troops to Swat to fight supporters of Fazlullah, the leader of the banned group Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammedi, or Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law.

In Malakand, a rugged area bordering Swat, authorities dropped pamphlets from airplanes on Sunday, urging residents to help "the government in purging (Malakand) of terrorists," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported. The government made similar appeals in Swat a day earlier.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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