PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan's prime minister said Saturday the government is lifting economic sanctions in a tense tribal region near Afghanistan to encourage help in tracking down foreign militants and those who shelter them.
The sanctions, including the closure of shops and seizure of vehicles, were imposed in South Waziristan this year to punish tribesmen for failing to evict suspected foreign terrorists from their areas.
Under a Pakistani law based on centuries-old customs, an entire tribe can be held responsible for crimes committed by one of its members _ and can be punished collectively.
``We are lifting these economic sanctions for development in South Waziristan,'' Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told more than 500 elders from various tribes at a meeting in Peshawar, a city in Pakistan's northwest. ``We hope you will help us in evicting foreign elements.''
Suspected foreign militants often target troops in the area, which is considered a possible hiding place for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and has been the scene of stepped-up military operations seeking militants over the past year.
``The foreign elements are enemies of Pakistan and our tribes, and we need your help against them,'' Aziz said.
Tribal elders welcomed the announcement, saying they would extend full support to the government and the army, Pakistani officials said.
The government believes hundreds of Central Asian, Arab and Afghan militants are hiding in the tribal areas, including many who moved there from Afghanistan after a U.S.-led military campaign drove the Taliban regime from power in late 2001.
Earlier this year, the government offered to give the foreigners permission to settle in Pakistan if they surrendered their arms, registered with authorities and agreed to respect the laws.
So far, the militants have refused the amnesty offer, but Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao said Saturday he was hopeful that talks would lead militants to lay down their arms.
Elders from the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan met last week with fellow tribesmen who are allegedly harboring foreigners, Sherpao said. ``There is some progress in the talks,'' he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.