Wed, Feb 13, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Pakistani atomic energy officials abducted

AGENCIES , ISLAMABAD AND PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

Two Pakistani nuclear energy officials have been abducted by masked men from a troubled northwestern area near the Afghan border, police said yesterday.

The kidnappers bundled the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) workers and their driver into a vehicle in Sheikh Badin, a town in the militancy-hit Dera Ismail Khan district, local police chief Akbar Nasir said.

"They were technicians from the PAEC, they were whisked away early Monday morning," Nasir said.

The officials were on a routine visit to conduct a geological survey for mineral exploration in the mountainous area, which adjoins Pakistan's lawless tribal regions, the police chief said.

"We don't know if the abductors were militants or members of some criminal gang," he said, adding that they were believed to be from the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

"A search is underway, we are contacting local people ... We are all trying, but so far we have no clues," he said.

The abduction of the PAEC officials came on the same day as the disappearance of Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan.

Ambassador Tariq Azizuddin was on his way to Kabul from the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar when he disappeared along with his driver and bodyguard in Pakistan's Khyber tribal region.

"The search is on. We have nothing to share at the stage," Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Muhammad Sadiq said.

He refused to speculate on whether the missing envoy had been kidnapped.

"We don't know what happened, we have no idea," Sadiq said. "There is no confirmation he has been kidnapped."

A security official said the envoy was to change cars at the border but he did not show up and was believed to have not reached the border.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was sure the envoy had been snatched.

"The Pakistan ambassador to Afghanistan has been kidnapped while traveling to Afghanistan," Karzai said in Kabul, during a conference on education. "I hope he is safe and I hope he will be released soon."

The historic Khyber Pass is the main road link to landlocked Afghanistan in the northwest of Pakistan.

The Khyber region is notorious for smugglers and bandits, but unlike other parts of the tribal belt on the Afghan border it has been relatively free of the violence linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, though militant activity has picked up in adjoining regions.

Scores of people were killed late last year in clashes between tribal militants loyal to two rival clerics in Khyber.

Four Pakistani workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross went missing in the same region earlier this month. They have not been found.

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