QUETTA: Eight Pakistanis working for a US charity have been released following a two-month kidnap ordeal near the Afghan border, one of their colleagues said Tuesday.
The American Refugee Committee (ARC) workers were abducted on July 18 in Pishin district, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.
It is understood the hostages were held in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan's lawless tribal belt that Washington considers a headquarters of Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighting US troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
“Our eight colleagues who were kidnapped in July have been released,” Muhammad Shafique, ARC's provincial coordinator told AFP. “They are safe and sound.” Shafique said that the workers had “reached” the northwestern city of Peshawar, seen as a gateway to the tribal belt, on Tuesday and were expected back in Quetta within a few days.
When asked who seized the group and whether a ransom was paid, he said he had no details.
According to its website, ARC has been working in Afghan refugee camps near Quetta since 2002, providing health care to 101,000 Afghans, and has helped 156,000 people affected by flooding in Pakistan.
Kidnappings blamed on criminal groups and militants plague Balochistan and northwest Pakistan, where hostages snatched by common criminals can be sold on to Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked groups.
But while anti-Americanism is rife in the country, abductions of Westerners are rare.
In August, an American development consultant was kidnapped from his home in the eastern city of Lahore just days before he was due to return to the United States.
Police say so far they have drawn a blank on the whereabouts of 70-year-old Warren Weinstein or the identities of his abductors.
Diplomatic relations between Pakistan and the United States have been severely compromised this year by the American raid killing Osama bin Laden on May 2 and Pakistan's detention of a CIA contractor over double murder charges.
On July 1, a Swiss couple were also kidnapped in Balochistan after driving into Pakistan from India on holiday, possibly en route to Iran.
Balochistan, which borders both Afghanistan and Iran, has seen a recent surge in violence, linked to a separatist insurgency, sectarian violence and Taliban militants.
Local rebels rose up in 2004 demanding political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the region's natural oil, gas and mineral resources.