PESHAWAR, Nov 12: The fate of 26 labourers, kidnapped by militants from Kalakhel coalmines of Khyber Agency few weeks ago, hangs in the balance as their captors have refused to release them even if ransom is paid, according to sources.

Militants had demanded Rs1.5 million for release of the kidnapped workers and the local committee had agreed to pay the amount but later the kidnappers refused to release the labourers so the money was not paid, a tribal elder told .

“Militants have threatened to kill the kidnapped labourers if government initiates any operation against them in the region,” he added.

The tribal elder, pleading anonymity, said that they were worried about the safety of the labourers. He said that that about 34 persons working in the coalmines and repairing a road in the area were kidnapped but later eight of them were released.

He said that the contractors had contact numbers of the families of labourers but they had also left the area owing to threats from militants.

Most of the kidnapped labourers belong to different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, particularly Shangla, Kohat and Swat. Some of them are also residents of Punjab province.

The tribal elder said that the relatives of kidnapped persons also attempted to get them released but failed to do so. He said that the ransom money had been arranged through donations from the owners of the coalmines and truckers as Rs1,000 were charged from each dumper and truck daily.

“We have also been forced to close down the coalmines,” he said and added that owing to closure of work they faced huge financial losses. He said that 30 coalmines out of 50 were functional but militants forced them to stop work there.

The elder said that militants had asked tribal people to stop helping political administration against criminals and anti-social elements but the latter continued to cooperate with authorities to improve law and order situation in the region.

It infuriated militants and they turned against tribal people, he added.

He said that local people had formed groups for investment in the mines and each group spent about Rs2 million but now the militants had forced them to stop the work without any reason.

“We have not formed any peace body in the area but a committee has been active for many years to arrest criminals wanted by political administration to avoid action under the law of collective responsibility,” he added.

A worker of a local NGO also told Dawn that Kalakhel people faced wrath of militants for no fault of theirs. “The school children of our village were targeted on Indus Highway in September this year but the government did not take any practical step to ensure protection to us,” he said.

He said that situation in the area was so tense that they did not like to talk to journalists for fear of reprisal by militants. He also recalled targeting of two passenger vehicles of the area at Matani Bazaar this year.

He said that after the blasts majority of people preferred to use motorbikes for transportation instead of public transport vehicles.

“We demand of the government to provide permanent protection to people so that they can resume work in the coalmines as temporary deployment of security forces is not in the interests of the people,” he said.

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