Freed Belgian hostage in Iran united with family

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TEHRAN, Sep 15 (Reuters) A Belgian man taken hostage by bandits in southeast Iran last month was reunited with his parents in Tehran today after Iranian forces helped secure his release, Iran's foreign minister said.

Stefaan Boeve was kidnapped in August with a Belgian woman, who was freed after a few days. The two tourists had been travelling in an area near the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan where Iranian police often clash with drug smugglers.

Boeve was flanked by his mother and father at a joint news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and his Belgian counterpart, Karel De Gucht, to mark the release.

''Our security forces were seriously following up the issue and, in the end, two days ago, our forces succeeded in releasing the second person after a series of operations,'' Mottaki said, without giving details of those operations.

He said Iranian security forces and officials had been in close contact throughout with their Belgian counterparts.

The official IRNA news agency had reported his release, saying Boeve had been ''returned to Iran from Pakistan'' and also cited efforts by the security forces.

Boeve and his companion were travelling between the historic city of Bam and the country's eastern border when they were seized, Iranian news reports said at the time.

De Gucht thanked Iran for its assistance and also praised its fight against drugs smuggling.

''The efforts to release the abducted people increased our knowledge about Iran's problems and its fight against narcotics,'' the Belgian minister said, IRNA reported.

To show its gratitude, he said the Belgium government was donating 500,000 euros to help Iran's efforts to combat drug smuggling.

De Gucht said Boeve would leave Iran on Sunday morning.

European and other tourists have been abducted in the same region in the past and some have been held for weeks.

Reuters SZ VP0145

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