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Kidnappers refuse to free Chinese hostages
Updated: 2004-10-13 16:47

A delegation of tribesmen met the head of a group of militants holding two Chinese engineers hostage in Pakistan, but failed to secure their release, a member of the delegation said on Wednesday.

Abdullah Mehsood, Pakistani tribal commander and leader of the Islamic militants who kidnapped two Chinese engineers, makes a speech to the media in the Chagmalai area of the South Waziristan in this Reuters video image taken October 11, 2004.  [Reuters]

In the Tuesday night talks, kidnap leader Abdullah Mehsud offered to free one of two Pakistanis held with engineers Wang Ende and Wang Peng since Saturday in the remote South Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

But Abdullah, a former Guantanamo Bay inmate who is in a separate location from the kidnappers, insisted he would not order the freeing of the Chinese until his demands were met, said the source, who did not want to be identified.

"He did not spell out the demands, but repeated a demand for safe passage for both captors and the captives to join him."

A council of the Mehsud tribe to which Abdullah belongs and which dispatched the delegation met on Wednesday in the town of Tank near South Waziristan to consider its response, he said.

Pakistani officials have said Abdullah has demanded an end to military operations in the semi-autonomous tribal region, where hundreds have died this year in battles between troops and al Qaeda-linked militants, and the freeing of two Uzbek militants.

The kidnappers, with explosives strapped to their bodies, have been holed up in a mud house surrounded by security forces and their tribal allies in the Chagmalai area of South Waziristan, about 330 km (200 miles) southwest of Islamabad.

Officials said there were four or five kidnappers, at least two of whom appeared to be Arabs, and they had threatened to blow up themselves and their hostages if any rescue attempt was made.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said the government wanted the crisis resolved through dialogue. "We want them to be freed without any loss or damage," he told reporters, adding that no deadline had been set.

"Under the situation we can only put pressure on them -- and that can be political pressure, pressure through the tribal elders and relatives," he said. "We don't want this to effect Pakistan-China relations, which are very cordial."

Former Guantanamo Inmate

Abdullah, who was freed from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in March after the Pentagon said he was no longer a threat to the United States, threatened on Monday to order the killing of one of the Chinese unless they and the kidnappers were allowed to join him in a nearby area.

Pakistani officials have said Abdullah has refused an offer of safe passage in return for freeing the engineers, who were working on a dam project in Pakistan for Chinese firm Sino Hydro Corp.

China has urged Islamabad to do all it can to rescue the engineers and also called on it to increase security for their co-workers.

Mehmood Shah, the head of security in the tribal region, said on Tuesday the government hoped for a peaceful solution to the crisis but warned that use of force could not be ruled out.

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