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Captors of Chinese Engineers Linked with Al-Qaeda

Pakistan's Minister for Interior Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said on Sunday that al-Qaeda is linked to the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers, who were seized on Saturday in Pakistan's tribal area bordering Afghanistan.

The Chinese engineers, along with a Pakistani guard and driver, were abducted by five gunmen near Jandola in Pakistan's South Waziristan area.

The hostages, Wang Ende and Wang Peng, have been working for the China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Group Corporation on a dam and a canal project in the area.

The kidnappers have not been identified, but reports indicate that two or three of them are Afghans, and one or two are Pakistanis. Two of the men, believed to be from Pakistan, had covered their faces.

Sherpao said the captors are connected with militants who are the targets of an operation in the area.

The Pakistani army has been engaged in operation to flush out hundreds of Al-Qaeda linked militants from South Waziristan since last year.

At last report, the engineers, their guard and driver were safe and remained under the protection of the local Jalal Khel tribe. A 21-member council, including a member of the National Assembly from the tribal region, was continuing negotiations.

The demands of the kidnappers remain unclear.

AFP has reported that demands include the release of two militants that the Pakistani security forces are holding. Earlier information from an unnamed source indicated that the kidnappers required that all foreign militants in custody be released.

The captors have reportedly threatened to kill the hostages if their demands are not met.

Sherpao said the demands of the kidnappers would be determined as the negotiations progress. "The government will look into the demands, whether or not they are acceptable," he said.

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 tribes.

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

(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily October 11, 2004)

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