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UN seeks direct contact with Pakistan kidnappers

The United Nations today urged the Pakistani kidnappers of an American official to make direct contact, calling for his immediate release.

world Updated: Feb 17, 2009 23:20 IST

The United Nations on Tuesday urged the Pakistani kidnappers of an American official to make direct contact, calling for his immediate release.

John Solecki, who heads the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Quetta -- the capital of Pakistan's restive southwestern Baluchistan province -- was abducted at gunpoint on February 2 while travelling to work. His driver was killed.

The shadowy Baluchistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), which claims to be holding Solecki, on Monday extended a 72-hour deadline for the government to meet demands for his release.

"The United Nations encourages the community leaders' continued engagement and again asks those keeping John to initiate direct contact so that dialogue can be started for his immediate safe recovery," the UN said.

"We are grateful for the growing community support for John Solecki and the response that their support has generated."

The world body reiterated an earlier appeal to Solecki's captors for his "immediate and safe release", saying it was aware of a message from abductors to the Quetta Press Club regarding extension of the deadline.

Meanwhile, UN officials met an influential Baluch tribal leader in the southern port city of Karachi to seek his help for Solecki's release, a UN official told AFP.

"Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri was approached because he is an influential personality. Marri assured every help he could do in this regard," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Marri was told that the UN was concerned about Solecki's health as he needed medication regularly, the official said.

A separate meeting scheduled with another Baluch tribal chieftain could not take place because he was hospitalised, the UN official said.

"We will meet all ulema (religious scholars), tribal leaders and we will seek their help to get Solecki released on humanitarian grounds," the official said, adding: "We are ready to meet the abductors directly."

"Government of Pakistan is making its own efforts and meanwhile we will continue to hold further meetings with people who can be helpful in securing John Solecki's safe and early release."

Solecki's is the most high-profile Western kidnapping in Pakistan since 2002, when US journalist Daniel Pearl was snatched and beheaded by Al-Qaeda militants.

A grainy video released by the kidnappers and shown on Pakistani television channels late Friday showed a blindfolded Solecki appealing to the United Nations for his release and saying he was unwell.

In an accompanying statement, the kidnappers demanded the release of 141 women Baluch detainees they say are in Pakistani custody, and information about 6,000 men "missing" from operations to put down Baluchistan's insurgency.

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