Pakistani Levies inspect a van which was used by a Swiss couple outside their Levies station in the Loralai district, 170 kilometres (105 miles) east of the provincial capital Quetta on July 2, 2011. Pakistan has launched a search operation and engaged tribal elders to help secure the release of a Swiss couple abducted in the insurgency-hit southwest, officials said. - AFP Photo


QUETTA: Gunmen who kidnapped two Swiss tourists in a volatile southwestern Pakistani province have taken them to a neighboring tribal area that was once a Taliban stronghold, a senior government official said Sunday.

The Swiss tourists, a man and a woman who were traveling through Balochistan by car, were kidnapped by gunmen Friday as they dined at a hotel in Lorali city.

Officials in the neighboring South Waziristan tribal area have been asked to keep an eye out for ''suspicious elements,'' said Baluchistan's home secretary, Zafarullah Baloch. Tribesmen in both areas have also been asked for help, he said.

The five gunmen were speaking Pashtu and drove off with the pair in a green car across the Zhob area of Baluchistan and eventually into South Waziristan, said Baloch.

South Waziristan served as the main sanctuary for the Pakistani Taliban before the military launched an offensive in 2009. But many militants still populate the area.

The kidnapping is the first such incident involving Swiss citizens in Pakistan, and authorities in Switzerland have set up a task force combining police and intelligence services to work on the case, the Swiss Foreign Ministry has said. The pair's identity was not disclosed.

Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, is a particularly dangerous region in Pakistan. It is the scene of a low-level separatist insurgency, and criminal gangs involved in the kidnapping for ransom trade are common.

The Swiss were driving from Punjab province, and when they reached Lorali, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) north of Quetta, the capital of the province, they were given a police escort, local Pakistan officials have said. However, once they reached its outskirts, beyond the area under police jurisdiction, they were left without security guides.

Most kidnapping victims in the country are Pakistani, but foreign aid workers, diplomats and other foreigners have also been targeted.