/ 16 February 2009

Pakistan rebels extend deadline for hostage’s execution

Pakistani insurgents holding a United States citizen working for the United Nations said on Monday they would extend for a ”few days” the deadline given for the hostage’s execution.

A previously unknown group, the Baloch United Liberation Front, on Friday released a video of John Solecki, who leads the UN refugee agency’s operations in the south-western Balochistan province, and issued a 72-hour ultimatum for the acceptance of their demands.

Solecki was kidnapped by gunmen in the provincial capital Quetta on February 2 while he was on his way to work in a car carrying the UN emblem and registration plates. His Pakistani driver was shot dead in the ambush.

A purported spokesperson for the rebel group, who identified himself as Shahak Baloch, phoned the Quetta Press Club on Monday and announced the deadline extension following appeals by Baloch nationalist leaders and international organisations.

A new deadline would be announced later, Baloch said, without giving any details.

The rebels have lately sought the release of 141 women, who, they claim, were being detained by the security forces fighting a low-level insurgency in Balochistan since 2005. They said a list of more than 6 000 men also believed to be held in government custody would also be issued soon.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also phoned Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at the weekend and underscored the need for Solecki’s safe and early release.

Pakistan’s government has denied the detention of any women, but some media reports said authorities had been asked to give a final word on the claim.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but most sparsely populated province, where local tribesmen have long been demanding political autonomy and greater share in profits from vast energy resources exploited in the area. — Sapa-dpa