FO presses Pakistan over kidnapped diplomats: Efforts are being stepped up to free three Europeans held in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online
A Foreign Office minister yesterday met Pakistan's senior London envoy to step up the pressure for the release of three European diplomats, including one Briton, who have been held for two weeks by a guerrilla commander in Afghanistan.

Mark Lennox-Boyd, the Foreign Office under-secretary of state, 'impressed upon the Pakistan High Commissioner the need to do everything possible to secure their early release,' an official said. The three anti-narcotics liaison officers - Jack Dodds of Britain, Stefan Elhert of Germany and Gert Piening of the Netherlands - were kidnapped two weeks ago after going on an official visit to Pakistan's Baluchistan province.

The Pakistanis claim that the three crossed the border from Baluchistan into Afghanistan without notifying the Pakistani anti-narcotics division and against the advice of the Pakistani border authorities. British officials claim that the three were last known to be on an official visit to Pakistan, and it is unclear under what conditions they crossed the border, which they say is largely notional anyway - implying that the responsibility for their release rests with the Pakistanis. Britain is reluctant to raise the profile of the case lest this should raise the value of the three as bargaining counters among the various tribes of the region.

The Pakistani High Commissioner, Riaz Samee, told Mr Lennox-Boyd that high-level negotiations were taking place to secure the release of the men. The kidnapper - the mujahedin commander Ghulam Nabi Noorzai - is demanding that Pakistan release two of his men held in Pakistani jails and accused of arms smuggling. Usually such kidnap cases also involve a money ransom demand, offering the opportunity to win the release of their abducted nationals on the quiet.

Although the Foreign Office is sticking to its traditional 'no deals' line, Pakistani officials say privately that Islamabad is prepared to bargain in the matter provided it does not appear as though they are submitting to blackmail from the abductors.

They also dispute claims in letters from the kidnappees that they were being held in caves, in chains and without water; it is not in the Pathan tradition to treat their captives that badly, and the three would probably have the same modest level of accommodation as their captors. Some suggest the captors may have forced the diplomats to write the letters at gun point to win a deal more quickly.

British sources suggest the captives may be lacking safe drinking water. The provincial authorities of Baluchistan have now agreed to deliver parcels of food, water and clothing from the men's respective embassies.