Peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban have suffered a serious setback, after a faction of the armed group claimed it had executed 23 soldiers held hostage since June 2010.
A Pakistani government negotiator, Irfan Siddiqui, said on Monday there was no use in holding a scheduled meeting with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] after its Mohmand chapter said it had killed 23 members of the Frontier Corps.
Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, condemned the killings, which have not yet been confirmed by the armed group's main spokesman, calling them a "heinous" act. He said: "Pakistan cannot afford such bloodshed...The situation is very sad and the whole nation is shocked."
The government's absence from the negotiating table comes after local media reports saying that the Taliban shura [council] was expected to declare a temporary ceasefire. There have been no further details on this.
Sharif announced the start of talks on January 29 to "give peace another chance" following seven years of violence that have claimed nearly 7,000 lives.
But meetings between between the government and representatives of the group seeking to overthrow it have offered little in the way of optimism, not least because scores of people have died in attacks and bombings since talks began on February 6.