Tue, Mar 03, 2009 - Page 5 News List

New deadline for hostage in Pakistan

AFP , QUETTA, PAKISTAN

A group claiming to hold an American UN official in Pakistan has threatened to kill him if the government does not free more than 1,100 prisoners in four days, in a letter seen by AFP yesterday.

John Solecki, head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, was snatched at gunpoint from the city of Quetta while traveling to work on Feb. 2.

His driver was killed during the abduction.

It was the most high-profile Western kidnapping in Pakistan since 2002, when US journalist Daniel Pearl was snatched and beheaded by al-Qaeda militants.

“This is our final deadline,” the shadowy Baluchistan Liberation United Front (BLUF) said in a letter sent to the local Online news agency.

“We will kill Solecki after the expiry of the deadline and the government institutions will be held responsible,” it said.

The agency’s local bureau chief, Irfan Saeed, told reporters they had received a telephone call on Sunday that a letter had been placed inside the wall of a government school in Quetta for release to the media.

The letter came with the names of 1,109 missing people, all ethnic Baluchs whom the BLUF claim to be in government custody.

The hand-written one-page letter in Urdu accompanies multiple sheets typed in English with the names of “missing people.” It claimed the missing Baluchs are in “torture cells.”

The kidnappers had on Feb. 16 extended until further notice an earlier 72-hour deadline for the government to meet demands for Solecki’s release.

The letter urged the UN, human rights groups and Solecki’s family to put pressure on the government of Pakistan.

The group had previously demanded information about 6,000 “missing” men and released a list of 141 Baluch women allegedly in government custody.

The commander of Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps, Major-General Saleem Nawaz, last week accused Brahamdagh Bugti, a Baluch nationalist leader who is living in Afghanistan, of masterminding the abduction.

Nawaz said he believed Solecki was “being kept somewhere in Baluchistan” and described his abduction as an “attempt to defame Pakistan.”

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