x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pakistan says knows kidnappers of UN official

Pakistani authorities identify the kidnappers of an American working for the UN refugee agency.

Pakistani authorities have identified the kidnappers of an American working for the UN refugee agency but want to avoid any hasty action that may endanger him, the country's foreign minister said. The head of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Baluchistan province, John Solecki, was kidnapped in the provincial capital of Quetta early last month by gunmen who ambushed his car and shot dead his driver.

"The people who kidnapped him have been identified and where he was kept was also identified," foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said. He did not elaborate on the identity of the kidnappers but said security forces had surrounded the area where Mr Solecki was being kept. Separatist militants have fought a low-intensity insurgency in gas-rich Baluchistan province for decades. Taliban militants are also known to operate in the province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran.

A previously unknown group, the Baluchistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), said it was holding Mr Solecki and gave a four-day deadline last Sunday for its demand for the release of more than 1,000 prisoners be met or Solecki would to be killed. The deadline passed on Thursday and there has been no word from the kidnappers. It was not the first deadline Mr Solecki's captors had given. The BLUF had earlier demanded UN intervention to secure the release of 141 women it said were held in government torture cells, information on more than 6,000 missing people and resolution of the issue of Baluch independence under the Geneva Convention.

Mr Qureshi said authorities were proceeding with caution. "We have to secure him safely and we do not want to take any step that may lead to any harm to him by the kidnappers, in nervousness or in haste," he said. The Baluchistan's provincial government said late on Thursday said the list of prisoners provided the BLUF was being "intensively scrutinised". Baluchistan is the largest but poorest of Pakistan's four provinces.

Baluch nationalists have for years complained that the province's gas and other resources were unfairly exploited to the benefit of the country's other provinces. *Reuters