Iran rules out deal with bandits holding Japanese

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TEHRAN, Oct 15 (Reuters) A Japanese student kidnapped in Iran last week was alive, the authorities said today as they ruled out any deal to secure his release by paying a ransom or releasing a bandit.

The 23-year-old man was abducted by bandits a week ago while travelling in the southeastern province of Kerman. He was the latest tourist to be seized in a region notorious for clashes between security forces and drug smugglers.

Asked about the possibility of Iran paying a ransom or exchanging captives, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a televised news conference today.

''There has been news about this ... that there should be a money exchange or what, but this is illegal.'' Iran was seeking to secure the student's release and was hoping he would be freed, Hosseini said.

''We know that the gentleman is alive .... we are making certain efforts to release him.'' Last Thursday an unnamed Iranian official was quoted as saying the kidnappers had offered to exchange the student for the jailed son of their gang leader.

Southeastern Iran has been the scene of numerous clashes between the military and well-armed drug smugglers.

Other tourists, including a couple from Belgium, have been abducted recently. Some have been held for weeks as kidnappers tried to secure the release of relatives from jail.

Iran's border regions with Afghanistan and Pakistan are a major smuggling route for drugs and other contraband. More than 3,300 Iranian security personnel have died in the region fighting drug traffickers since Iran's 1979 revolution.

REUTERS SKB BD1503

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