ISLAMABAD: Pakistani government negotiators on Monday called off a scheduled round of peace talks with the Taliban after the insurgents claimed they had executed 23 kidnapped soldiers in a northwestern tribal region.
A faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from the Mohmand district claimed in a statement Sunday night that they had killed 23 paramilitary Frontier Corps members who were kidnapped in June 2010.
Neither the army nor the government has confirmed the killings.
The deaths were to avenge the alleged extra-judicial killings of Taliban comrades in government custody, the faction said.
Chief government peace negotiator Irfan Siddiqui said in a statement that a scheduled round of peace talks on Monday would be "purposeless after the incident involving the killing of kidnapped officials".
He said the four-member government committee charged with meeting Taliban negotiators in the northwestern town of Akora Khattak on Monday had unanimously described the incident as "sad and condemnable".
The disappearance of dozens of soldiers was reported by AFP from the Mohmand tribal district on June 17, 2010.
A spokesman for the main Taliban group, Shahidullah Shahid, also declined to confirm the killings but said "it might be a reaction to the killing of our 23 comrades in Karachi and Nowshera".
On January 29 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced talks with the Pakistani Taliban to "give peace another chance" following a seven-year insurgency that has claimed nearly 7,000 lives.
Some 60 more people have died in Islamist-linked violence since then.
The Taliban's demands include the nationwide imposition of sharia law and an end to US drone strikes, conditions the government and army are unlikely to be able to meet.
"We regret to say that things are not moving in a right direction," Siddiqui said, adding that a meeting would be convened on Tuesday to discuss the future course of action.
Pakistani troops have for years been battling homegrown insurgents in the tribal belt, which Washington considers the main hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.
Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in the TTP insurgency since it began in 2007, according to an AFP tally. (AFP)