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Militants still hold Chinese hostages
Updated: 2004-10-11 09:18

Islamic militants are still holding two Chinese engineers they kidnapped in Pakistan and have threatened to kill them if attacked by security forces, a member of a team seeking the captives' release said on Sunday.

The men are being held in South Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan where security forces have been battling al Qaeda-linked militants since March, the source said.

He said the kidnappers, who had explosives strapped to them, were with their captives in an isolated mud-brick house in the Chagmalai area of South Waziristan, surrounded by tribesmen and security forces.

The area is about 330 km (200 miles) southwest of Islamabad.

The source, who did not want to be identified, was part of a 21-member tribal committee led by local National Assembly member Maulana Mirajuddin who spent Sunday unsuccessfully negotiating for the release of the engineers, who were abducted early on Saturday.

"They are in a small house and two people came out when we said we wanted to speak to them," he said.

"They were wearing masks and speaking in Pashto. They had hand grenades in their hands and explosives strapped to their bodies. They didn't have any demands. They said we should speak to their leader, Abdullah Mehsud."

They said: "If there is an attack or rescue attempt, we will blow up ourselves, along with the Chinese."

Mehsud, also known as "Commander Abdullah", is a former inmate of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, who now leads tribesmen fighting alongside al Qaeda fighters in South Waziristan.


Tribal sources told reporters he demanded an end to military operations in South Waziristan in return for freeing the men.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said on Geo Television there were four kidnappers, three of whom appeared to be Afghan. He said they had links to al Qaeda and local tribes and had demanded the release of comrades held by the military.

Chinese diplomats identified the engineers as Wang Ende and Wang Teng, who worked on the Pakistan's Gomal Zam Dam project for China's Sino Hydro Corp. Pakistani officials said the engineers were kidnapped with one or two Pakistani security men.

Earlier Chinese embassy spokesman Zhang Yiming said the engineers had been handed to tribal elders while negotiations took place for their release.

A senior Pakistani security official said more tribal representatives, from the same Mehsud tribe as Commander Abdullah, would be sent to try to resolve the issue.

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

In May, three Chinese technicians working on a deep sea port construction project were killed and nine wounded in a car bomb attack in the southern Pakistani city of Gawadar.

The semi-autonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan has long been notorious for kidnappings, but it has also become a refuge for al Qaeda-linked militants, including Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs, who have been protected by local tribesmen.

Hundreds have died in battles between the militants and the military in the region since March. U.S. officials believe Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders may be hiding somewhere along the rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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