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Pakistan Denies Reports Nuclear Scientist Has Been Freed


Pakistani officials are denying reports that the government has eased travel restrictions on disgraced nuclear scientist AQ Khan. He has been under strict house arrest since 2004 after he confessed to selling nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam on Monday sharply rejected media reports suggesting the government has ended AQ Khan's house arrest.

"There is no change in his status," said Aslam. "He continues to lead a quiet life with his family."

The denial comes a day after local media quoted unnamed government sources as saying the strict limits on Khan's movements were lifted last month.

The reports said the disgraced scientist was free to visit friends and attend dinner parties in and around the capital.

Khan is considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear program and remains a popular figure throughout the country.

In January 2004 he confessed to running a massive network that smuggled critical nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, Libya and other countries.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf pardoned Khan but placed him under virtual house arrest.

He refused to let international investigators question Khan and the full extent of the smuggling network has never been revealed.

The unconfirmed reports of his release come just days after U.S. lawmakers renewed demands for direct access to the Pakistani scientist.

During a hearing in Washington last week, Congressman Gary Ackerman said Khan's smuggling network was likely still active, albeit under different leadership.

He described the issue as the single worst case of nuclear proliferation in the last 50 years.

"What is most startling is not the scope of Khan's network, that stretched as far as we know across 10 countries and involved at least 30 companies and middlemen, but that so few countries, companies or individuals have been held accountable," said Ackeman. "Apparently the stiffest penalty the Pakistani government can impose on those that sell the nuclear crown jewels is house arrest."

Pakistani officials have dismissed Ackerman's comments and say the government has cooperated with international agents and shared the findings from its investigation into Khan's smuggling network.

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