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QUETTA, Feb 2: A top UN official was kidnapped and his driver was killed after his vehicle was ambushed here on Monday.

John Solecki, head of the UN refugee agency in Quetta, was going to office from his nearby residence in the Chaman Housing Society when the gunmen in a white car opened fire on his vehicle.

The driver was seriously injured and the vehicle crashed into a wall.

Gunmen took away Mr Solecki, who is an American national, at gunpoint.

The UN official was without a police escort. The driver, Syed Hashim Hazara, succumbed to his injuries in the Combined Military Hospital. He was buried in the Hazara graveyard.

Mr Solecki has been working in the sub-office of UN High Commission for Refugees for two years. Although he never sought an escort, security guards as well as policemen were deployed at his office and residence.

Law-enforcement personnel have been placed on high alert and special pickets have been posted at the entry and exit points of the city.

Police said no group had claimed responsibility and there were no clues to the identity of the kidnappers.

Chief Minister Aslam Raisani directed law-enforcement agencies to use all resources to trace the UN official and arrest the culprits. Mr Raisani also asked police to beef up security for foreigners working in the UNHCR, Unicef and NGOs.

He said that it was the responsibility of the government to protect all citizens and foreigners working in different organisations. Nobody would be allowed to take the law into his own hands, the chief minister added.

The UN office in Islamabad strongly condemned the abduction of its official in Quetta and killing of his driver.

“The United Nations in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan hereby conveys the extreme shock and dismay felt by the whole UN community at the death of Syed Hashim, driver of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the abduction of Mr John Solecki, Head of the UNHCR Office in Quetta,” said a statement issued by the UN Information Centre in Islamabad.

“We strongly condemn this attack on humanitarian workers in Pakistan who have been doing their utmost to deliver their humanitarian mission,” the statement said.The office said the families of both staff members had been contacted to convey deepest sympathies on the part of the world body. “The United Nations is now taking all possible measures to secure his (Mr Solecki’s) release.”

A similar statement was issued by the UNHCR office.

AFP adds: A white jeep bearing the light blue UNHCR markings stood dead-ended into a brick wall. A small pool of blood could be seen on the pavement next to the driver’s door, an AFP photographer witnessed.“He is an American national and his name is John Solecki. He is head of the sub-office of UNHCR-Quetta,” local police official Khalid Masood said.

“They opened fire. His driver was wounded and died on the way to hospital. The gunmen took him (Solecki) away to an unknown location,” he added.

“We have asked the authorities to close the Chaman border (with Afghanistan) and also step up the monitoring of unfrequented routes,” Mr Masood said.

Police said a task force had been set up to ‘fast-track’ investigations.

The deputy inspector general of Balochistan police, Wazir Khan Nasir, said it was “too early to say who might be involved” in the abduction, but said authorities had extended adequate security to UN agencies in the area.Another police official said: “We cannot rule out that Islamist militants were involved given their activities all over the country, especially in the northwest.

“But it is difficult to say which group may have been involved in the incident because there are many groups as well as the Taliban that are operating in the country.”

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for the immediate release of Mr Solecki.

The secretary general “calls for the immediate and safe release” of John Solecki, UN deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe told a press briefing.

She said Mr Ban, who is currently attending a summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa, was “deeply distressed” to learn about the attack on the two UNHCR staffers in Quetta.

“He condemns, in the strongest terms, attacks on UN staff who serve the neediest people around the world,” Ms Okabe added in a statement. “Such acts are aimed, not only against UN personnel, but also against those they serve selflessly and with dedication.”

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi denounced the ambush as an “unfortunate and dastardly terrorist act”.

“The government of Pakistan is taking all necessary measures for the safe and early recovery of Mr Solecki,” he added.