Pakistani Taliban militants have claimed responsibility for kidnapping two Chinese engineers in northwest Pakistan last week.  A Taliban spokesman said the kidnappings were retaliation for the Pakistan military's offensive against the militants.  VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

The two Chinese telecommunications engineers disappeared with their Pakistani driver and guard on Friday.

Officials said they went missing after finishing work on a project in Dir district, located between the Swat valley and Bajaur tribal agency, where the military has been battling Taliban militants for weeks.

A spokesman for the loose network of pro-Taliban militants known as Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan says a faction of the group in Swat has custody of the men.

Muslim Khan told VOA there are two main reasons why the engineers were targeted.

He said that the government has been attacking our women and children and this is retaliation.  He also claimed China pressured the Pakistani government to launch last year's deadly raid on Islamabad's radical Red Mosque, after mosque students kidnapped several Chinese nationals working in the capital city.  

In Beijing, China's foreign ministry said it has asked the Pakistani government to clarify what happened and rescue the two engineers.  Pakistani officials have launched a search for the workers.

China is a strong military and economic partner of Pakistan, and several Chinese workers have been targeted by Taliban militants in recent years.

Meanwhile, the top official in Pakistan's interior ministry says the military's suspended offensive against Taliban militants in the Bajaur tribal agency should allow many of those displaced by the fighting to return home for Ramadan.

Rehman Malik told reporters Monday that 500,000 people fled the violence, but troops now control key checkpoints throughout the region and will still retaliate against the militants if necessary.

"We will be watching them. If there is any training movement or any regrouping or reenergizing - any firing on a police officer or a civilian, we will react," Malik said.

He said that so far, about 30,000 people have returned to their homes in Bajaur.