JAMRUD, Pakistan, (Reuters) – Gunmen in a lawless Pakistani region near the Afghan border released two U.N. workers on Monday after security forces attacked the kidnap gang, officials said.
The two workers for the U.N. World Food Programme and a guard were abducted earlier on Monday as they were travelling through the Khyber region, towards the Afghan border, where Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan was kidnapped in February. He is still being held. “The abducted men have been recovered,” said a U.N. official who declined to be identified. “They’re said to be fine, there’s been no harm to them.” The two U.N. workers were Pakistani. A guard travelling with them was also seized.
A government official in the region said the kidnappers had freed the three because of an assault by the security forces in which a paramilitary soldier was killed and three were wounded. “It’s because troops mounted pressure on the miscreants by quick action,” said the official.
It was not clear who the kidnappers were but security forces were hunting for them, the official said.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, went missing in the same region while travelling to Kabul on Feb. 11. He appeared in a video on Arabic television on Saturday saying he was being held by the Taliban and urged the Pakistani government to meet their demands.
Scores of people have been kidnapped in the dangerous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the ambassador’s disappearance highlighted instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan — a major ally in the U.S.-led crackdown on militants.
Khyber is notorious for smugglers and bandits, but unlike other parts of the tribal belt on the Afghan border it has been relatively free of violence linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban, though militant activity has picked up in nearby regions.