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Pakistani Officials Dispute Number of Kidnap Victims

Authorities in Pakistan say gunmen have kidnapped over a dozen civilians near a northwestern tribal region where security forces are engaged in a major anti-militancy offensive. Some reports quote locals as saying that as many as 60 people were kidnapped.

Police and residents say the hostages were traveling from the northwestern city of Peshawar to a neighboring tribal region when dozens of heavily armed militants intercepted their convoy and whisked away the passengers.

But local administration chief, Khalid Khan Omarzai, told VOA there were a total of 14 people in the convoy, including two employees of the state-run power supply company. He says one of the hostages managed to escape shortly after the kidnapping took place. "One person came back. Thirteen are still with them and we are trying our best to recover them. But you know the area is a difficult area and this is a very far flung area, it is on the border of Orakzai agency," he said.

Pakistan's Orakzai tribal region is known as a stronghold of Taliban insurgents. A major military offensive launched in mid March to root out insurgent bases in the area is said to have killed hundreds of militants. Authorities have also confirmed deaths of nearly two dozen soldiers in clashes with insurgents. Independent confirmation of the human losses in the fighting is difficult because journalists and aid workers have no access to the region.

The area where Saturday's kidnapping took place is located close to another tribal region known as Kurram Agency, which borders eastern Afghanistan.

A large number of Taliban militants are said to have taken refuge in Kurram after fleeing Pakistan army's offensives in Orakzai and neighboring tribal regions. The security operations are part of efforts Pakistan is making to secure the border with Afghanistan and discourage Afghan as well as al-Qaida-linked insurgents from taking refuge there.