Pakistan: Missing soldiers 'found'

Peshawar/Wana/Tank, 31 August (AKI/DAWN) - About 100 Pakistan soldiers who were missing and feared captured by pro-Taliban militants in the tribal area of South Waziristan have been "found" according to the army.

Pakistan's military spokesperson told the AFP news agency that the soldiers had been found safe and that they will return to their camp on Friday morning.

The army said that soldiers had lost contact and were sheltering in a valley during a storm.

Reports on Thursday said that the pro-Taliban militants in the restive South Waziristan tribal area claimed to have seized over 100 security forces personnel after intercepting a military convoy.

Sources requesting anonymity told the Pakistani daily Dawn that the militants intercepted a the convoy in the Momi Karam area, some 40 kilometres north of South Waziristan's regional capital, Wana.

A spokesman claiming to speak for the local pro-Taliban militants told Dawn that more than 300 security personnel had been kidnapped. But official sources disputed the figure and said it was not more than 125.

These sources said the Taliban had also impounded 17 trucks which were carrying troops. Nine of the hostages were reported to be officers including a colonel, the sources said.

The incident comes a few days after the release of 19 paramilitary soldiers and an official by the pro-Taliban in South Waziristan. Their release was possible due to mediation by a jirga of local tribesmen.

A member of the jirga and tribal parliamentarian Senator Saleh Shah told Dawn that he had been approached by the authorities to help secure the release of the new hostages. But Saleh Shah hastened to add that the whole incident seemed to be the result of some misunderstanding and hoped that the issue would be resolved soon.

A government official in Peshawar acknowledged that militants were holding more than 100 security personnel hostage but he insisted that the incident was the result of some misunderstanding.

“It should not have happened. Perhaps there should have been more caution on part of our forces, particularly when there was already suspicion amongst the Mehsud tribal militants about troops’ movement into their area,” the official said.

“Probably, the militants thought that the troops were trying to enter their area and took the action,” he said.

He put the total number of troops being held hostage at hundred plus but stated that the incident occurred following an argument between officers and some militants. “Not a single shot was fired,” he said.


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