Pakistani envoy to Afghanistan released

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Islamabad, May 17 (UNI) Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Aziz, who was abducted three months ago, was released by local Taliban militants, as their peace talks with the government made headway despite Wednesday's missile strike in Bajaur tribal region that killed 14 people.

''Tariq Azizuddin, who was kidnapped more than three months ago has been recovered safely,'' foreign office spokesman Muhammad Sadiq said in Islamabad today while confirming release of the envoy.

The ambassador was travelling by road to the Afghan capital, Kabul with his driver when he disappeared in the Khyber tribal region bordering Afghanistan on February 11.

He appeared for the first time in a video prepared by Al-Arabiya TV pleading to the government and the foreign ministry to do all they could to secure release of him and his driver.

Mr Sadiq did not disclose whether the ambassador's release was secured in exchange of a list of Islamists given by local Taliban for release.

The list included former defence minister of the ousted Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Mulla Obaidullah Akund, former chief cleric of Islamabad's Red Mosque Maulana Abdul Aziz and three other militants, arrested in connection with former premier Benazir Bhutto's assassination last year.

However, he said the ambassador who was recovered late yesterday was safe and sound.

Local media reports said the government set free at least 55 local Taliban militants, belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, headed by Baitullah Mehsud, who was accused of masterminding Bhutto's assassination.

Talking to mediapersons, Mr Aziz said, ''I am grateful to the government of Pakistan and the Prime Minister for securing my release. The kidnappers did not mete out harsh treatment to me.

They were all locals. They looked like Mujahideen. They did not tell me about the places they took me to. They were little upset for the last 4-5 days and were talking about some action by law enforcement agencies in Parachinar tribal region.'' He was accompanied by advisor to Prime Minister on interior Rehman Malik.

Mr Malik categorically denied any deal with the militants and said, ''There was no deal with terrorists. Action by law enforcement agencies made his (Azizuddin) release possible.'' However, the new coalition government launched peace talks with Mehsud and his Tehreek-e-Taliban after coming into power to bring peace in the troubled tribal regions, which Americans and NATO officials said were safe heavens for al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives.

Mr Azizuddin was released three days after 14 suspected militants were killed in a missile strike by coalition forces in Afghanistan over two houses in Damadola village in Bajaur tribal region, bordering Afghanistan.

Mr Azizuddin was a career diplomat, who served both at the headquarters and abroad in different positions before being appointed as the country's ambassador to Afghanistan.

''We are grateful to all those, who worked for securing safe release of Tariq Azizuddin,'' his brother Tahir Azizuddin told the private Geo TV.

UNI XC RJ RN1753

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