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Talks go on after Chinese hostage deadline
Updated: 2004-10-11 19:32

Tribal elders were in talks with al Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan on Monday over the fate of two kidnapped Chinese engineers after an extended deadline to kill one hostage passed, a Pakistani official said.

"There is no change in the situation," said the senior security official as the the 4 p.m. (1900 Beijing time) deadline passed. "Tribal elders are in contact with the militants."

Abdullah Mehsud, leader of the kidnappers holding the engineers in Pakistan's South Waziristan region, initially insisted that they and the hostages be allowed to join him in a nearby area by noon otherwise one of the Chinese would be killed. The deadline was subsequently extended by four hours.

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

The militants set a noon (0700 GMT) deadline but later extended it until 4 p.m. (1100 GMT), said a senior Pakistani security official.

"The deadline has been extended by four hours," the official said, confirming a report from a tribal source in South Waziristan. "Negotiations are continuing."

Chinese diplomats have identified the engineers as Wang Ende and Wang Teng, who worked on 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 early on Saturday.

The men were being held in South Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan where security forces have been battling al Qaeda-linked militants since March, said a member of the delegation that went to try to secure their release on Sunday.

Pakistani officials said the kidnappers were with their captives in an isolated mud-brick house in the Chagmalai area of South Waziristan, surrounded by tribesmen and security forces.

Leader Freed from Guantanamo

Pakistan officials said the kidnappers were taking orders from Mehsud, a former inmate of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, who now heads tribesmen fighting alongside al Qaeda fighters in South Waziristan.

They said Abdullah was demanding an end to military operations in South Waziristan, in which hundreds have died since March, in return for freeing of the men.

Abdullah, who is not with the kidnappers, spoke to a group of local journalists on Sunday in Spinkai Raghzai, an area near Chagmalai. He said the Chinese would not be safe until they and the kidnappers reached him.

"Until they come to me, we cannot guarantee their safety," he said.

Abdullah, who is in his 20s, was among 26 inmates freed from Guantanamo Bay in March after the Pentagon said they were no longer a threat to the United States and had no intelligence value.

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

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.

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.

US 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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