Japanese man taken by bandits now in Pakistan-Iran

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TEHRAN, Oct 20 (Reuters) A Japanese student kidnapped by bandits in Iran 12 days ago is healthy but has been taken by his kidnappers across the border to Pakistan, an Iranian government spokesman said today.

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

''We know he is healthy but they (bandits) have taken him outside the country to one of the neighbouring countries,'' Gholamhossein Elham told reported in his weekly press conference.

Asked whether the Japanese tourist had been taken to Pakistan, Elham said: ''Yes. That is usually where they hang out''.

Iranian officials previously said security forces had launched a large-scale operation to rescue him but ruled out any deal with his abductors after reports the bandits had offered to exchange the student for the jailed son of their leader.

''They (abductors) are drug smugglers,'' Elham said.

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

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 SZ BD1705

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