updated 4/25/2008 1:06:27 AM ET 2008-04-25T05:06:27

A car bomb exploded next to a police station in a northwestern city Friday, killing three people and ending a five-week lull in the deadly explosions that have plagued Pakistan.

The bomb went off between the police station and a market area in the city of Mardan at about 6 a.m., senior police official Akhbar Ali Shah said.

He said two civilians and one police officer died and 24 people were wounded, including nine police. Six people were in serious condition at hospitals in Mardan and the regional capital, Peshawar.

Shah declined to speculate who was responsible for the attack.

On Thursday, the top Taliban commander in Pakistan called a cease-fire and ordered followers to halt attacks, while the government said it was pursuing peace talks with tribal elders in the volatile border region.

Pakistan has enjoyed a lull in violence since a new government took office and pledged to scale back military operations against militants.

The government, led by the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has offered negotiations to Islamic militants in a bid to bring them into the political mainstream.

The last deadly bombing was a suicide blast that killed five soldiers in the South Waziristan region on March 20.

Officials say the government is trying to negotiate an agreement with tribal elders in South Waziristan, a militant stronghold, that would oblige the tribe to rein in a Taliban commander accused of Bhutto's killing.

On Monday, authorities freed a pro-Taliban cleric after his group promised to give up violence and continue their campaign for the imposition of Islamic law through peaceful means.

The U.S. government, which has given Pakistan billions of dollars in return for its help combating al-Qaida and the Taliban, has expressed concern that militants have taken advantage of past peace deals to regroup.

Fliers distributed on the Afghan frontier and in nearby towns tell those loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban commander accused of ties to al-Qaida, to avoid acts of "hostility."

A copy obtained by The Associated Press said those carrying out attacks would be "strung upside down in public and punished."

The orders were handed out as Pakistan's new government stepped up talks designed to turn back a rising tide of Islamic militancy.

Zahid Khan, a senior politician in the ruling coalition, said government envoys were holding peace talks with elders of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. Mehsud, who has been accused in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is a member of the tribe.

Khan offered no details about the possible terms of a deal. Tribal elders could not be reached for comment.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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