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Pakistan seek release of China hostages
Updated: 2004-10-12 17:28

A tribal delegation sought on Tuesday to secure the release of two Chinese engineers taken hostage by al Qaeda-linked militants near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

The engineers, who were working on a dam project, have been held since Saturday in the remote South Waziristan tribal region where hundreds have died in battles between security forces and al Qaeda-linked militants since March.

Abdullah Mehsud, the leader of the kidnappers, threatened on Monday to kill one of the hostages unless they and the kidnappers were allowed to join him in a nearby area.

But Pakistani officials said negotiations for the release of the two men had continued beyond deadlines set by the kidnappers on Monday.

Wang Ende and Wang Peng were working on Pakistan's Gomal Zam Dam project for China's state-run Sino Hydro Corp when they were abducted.

The kidnappers, with explosives strapped to their bodies, were 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.

The militants, who number four or five, have threatened to blow up themselves and their hostages, who include a Pakistani driver and a security guard, if any rescue attempt was made.

Officials said a tribal delegation, led by a local member of the National Assembly, Maulana Mirajuddin, set off in the morning in a convoy of 50-60 cars, for talks with Abdullah.

Elders from Abdullah's Mehsud tribe telephoned him on Monday and warned him the tribe as a whole would suffer unless he freed the hostages and he would face tribal justice, said Brigadier Mehmood Shah, chief of security of the tribal region.

"We are still considering options, including the use of force," Shah said on Monday night. "We are operating via various channels, that is why we are confident no harm will come to the engineers and I remain optimistic."

A senior security official said kidnappers had refused an offer of safe passage if they freed the engineers.

Former Guantanamo Inmate

"There is no change from last night," he said. "The jirga has left and we are waiting to hear from them. Then we will decide our next course of action."

Abdullah, who calls himself Commander Abdullah, is a former inmate of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay freed with 25 others in March after the Pentagon said they were no longer a threat to the United States and had no intelligence value.

Xinhua news agency said Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah, governor of North West Frontier Province, told Chinese diplomats on Monday the hostages were in the same room as the kidnappers but no explosives were attached to the captives.

It quoted Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as saying that one or two more days would be needed to resolve the situation, but he hoped for a political solution on Tuesday.

Officials have said the kidnappers were also demanding an end to military operations in the semi-autonomous tribal region and the freeing of two Uzbek al Qaeda militants.

Hundreds of foreign militants, including Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, are thought to be holed up in the tribal region, protected by local tribesmen.

US officials believe Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders may also be hiding somewhere along the rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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