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Pakistan steps up efforts to free UN hostage

world Updated: Feb 14, 2009 18:02 IST

AFP
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Pakistan on Saturday intensified efforts to free a kidnapped American UN official after his captors set a 72-hour deadline to kill him if their demands were not met.

Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik travelled to Quetta -- the capital of Pakistan's restive southwestern Baluchistan province -- to oversee efforts to secure the release of John Solecki, who was kidnapped at gunpoint on February 2.

"We are taking every step for his (Solecki's) safe recovery," Malik told reporters when he arrived at Quetta airport. He said he would meet with top provincial officials to assess the situation.

A video released by the kidnappers and shown on local television channels late Friday showed Solecki, who heads the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Quetta, appealing for the kidnappers' demands to be met.

The previously unknown Baluch United Liberation Front, which claimed Solecki's abduction in a telephone call to local media last week, has demanded the release of of 141 women Baluch detainees they say are in Pakistani custody.

But Malik denied any Baluch women were in custody and condemned the kidnappers as "anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam."

Solecki, whose driver was killed during the abduction, was blindfolded in the poor-quality video.

"This is a message to the United Nations. I am not feeling well, I am sick and in trouble. Please help solve the problems soon so I can gain my release," he said.

The United Nations has expressed deep concern over the fate of Solecki, saying he suffers from a condition that requires regular medication.

His abduction is the most high-profile Western kidnapping in Pakistan since US journalist Daniel Pearl was snatched in 2002 and beheaded by Al-Qaeda militants.

Hundreds of people have died in insurgent unrest in Baluchistan since 2004, when rebels rose up demanding political autonomy and a greater share of profits in the province's rich natural resources.