Gunmen kidnap Pakistanis working for US charity

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Gunmen have kidnapped eight local staff working for a US charity near the Afghan border in southwest Pakistan, which is rife with insurgency and sectarian violence, officials said Tuesday.

The American Refugee Committee (ARC) workers were abducted on Monday in Pishin district, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, government officials said.

"All of them are Pakistani employees of the American NGO. We have launched an operation to trace them," Abdul Mansoor, deputy Pishin district commissioner, told AFP by telephone.

"They were coming back after distributing food at an Afghan refugee camp. Their vehicle was intercepted and they were kidnapped at gunpoint. Their vehicle was also taken."

Officials said they feared the kidnappers may have moved the hostages to the mountainous area along the Afghan border, about 30 kilometres away.

A local ARC official confirmed the kidnapping but refused to speak on the record or provide further details.

According to its website, ARC has been working in Afghan refugee camps near Quetta since 2002, providing health care to 101,000 Afghans, and has helped 156,000 people affected by flooding in Pakistan.

Kidnappings are a plague in parts of Baluchistan and northwest Pakistan, where criminals looking for ransom snatch foreigners and locals, sometimes passing their hostages onto Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

On Sunday, tribal rebels kidnapped five government officials working for the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation in Baluchistan's Sorange district.

The outlawed Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility, saying the kidnapping was in retaliation for fresh military operations.

On July 1, a Swiss couple on holiday were also kidnapped in Baluchistan after driving into Pakistan from India, possibly en route to Iran.

Senior officials in the southwest told AFP on Tuesday they were still clueless about the whereabouts of the couple.

"We have searched for them everywhere, in mountains, in refugee camps and in criminal dens, yet we have no clue," said Sohail-Ur-Rehman, deputy commissioner of Loralai district, where the couple vanished.

Hamid-Ul-Karim, deputy commissioner of Zhob district, which borders Pakistan's northwest tribal belt, said there was no certainty that the couple had been moved into North Wazirstan, a notorious Taliban and Al-Qaeda hub.

"I don't think the Swiss couple has been shifted to Waziristan," he said.

"We are clueless. We do not know where they are, nor do we have any other information," he added.

Baluchistan has seen a recent surge in violence, linked to a separatist insurgency, sectarian violence and Taliban militants.

Local rebels rose up in 2004 demanding political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the region's natural oil, gas and mineral resources.

© 2011 AFP

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