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Taliban infighting hampers peace talks; Chinese tourist kidnapped
by Staff Writers
Islamabad (AFP) May 19, 2014

Taliban kidnap Chinese tourist in Pakistan
Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP) May 20, 2014 - Taliban gunmen have kidnapped a Chinese tourist in northwest Pakistan, close to the militant-infested tribal areas, officials and an insurgent commander said Tuesday.

The man is the latest foreigner to be seized by militants in Pakistan. At least five others are known to be currently captive, including the elderly US aid worker Warren Weinstein, held since August 2011.

The Chinese man was abducted on Monday from Daraban, in restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province close to the border with Baluchistan province and South Waziristan tribal district, both of which are rife with insurgents.

Officials said the man was apparently passing through the area by bike when he was taken.

"We have recovered his bicycle and his travelling bag and have registered a case of kidnapping," said Mohammad Salim Khan who heads the police station in the remote area, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) southwest of the city of Dera Ismail Khan.

It was not clear exactly what the Chinese national was doing in the remote region but police said he entered from Baluchistan.

Tasnim Aslam, spokeswoman for the Pakistani foreign ministry, confirmed the kidnapping and told AFP that police had launched a search operation.

China is one of Pakistan's main allies, investing billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including nuclear power plants, dams and roads.

A faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said they were behind the abduction.

"We have kidnapped the Chinese national and we claim responsiblity for it," Abdullah Bahar, a commander in South Waziristan told AFP, adding that the man had been taken to a secret location on the Afghan border.

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad could not be reached for comment, but in its report on the kidnapping China's state news agency Xinhua said an official had said the mission was "contacting Pakistan's relevant departments to verify the incident".

Past kidnappings have mostly targeted Westerners, including Weinstein and two Czech tourists abducted in Baluchistan in March last year.

In August 2008 two Chinese engineers were abducted in the northwestern Swat Valley, with one escaping quickly and the other freed after six months in captivity.

Islamist militants have used hostages as bargaining chips to try to obtain the release of Taliban prisoners and also for ransom.

Not all abductions have been resolved peacefully -- in April 2012 the body of a British man working for the Red Cross was found outside the Baluchistan capital Quetta, four months after he was kidnapped.

Weeks of infighting between Taliban groups have hampered stop-start peace talks with Pakistan's government, sources said Monday, as the insurgents' leader vowed to continue fighting until Islamic law was enforced in the country.

Two factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the umbrella grouping for disparate militant groups, have been locked in bloody clashes since at least March.

The fighting has claimed more than 90 lives in the tribal areas along the Afghan border and has now forced the TTP's commander-in-chief Mullah Fazlullah to appoint a mediator to try to end the feud, militant sources told AFP.

"The infighting has forced the Taliban leadership to postpone peace talks for the time being," a TTP insider told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Another Taliban commander in the northwest confirmed to AFP that "peace talks have been halted until end of differences between the two rival groups".

The development threatens to undermine what little progress has been made in the peace negotiations.

The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif began the talks in February to try to end the TTP's seven-year insurgency which has claimed thousands of lives.

Insiders say the TTP feud, which came to light in March, is over command in the South Waziristan tribal area and who has the right to lead the Mehsud tribe, from which the movement draws many of its members.

The conflict pits followers of the late TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, led by commander Sheheryar Mehsud, against supporters of Khan Said Sajna.

Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by a US drone last November.

"Differences between the Sajna and Sheheryar groups mean differences in the Mehsud tribe and its continuation is very harmful for the Taliban," the commander said.

Fazlullah, who became TTP chief on Hakimullah's death, has separately vowed to continue his armed struggle until Islamic sharia law is in force across Pakistan.

In a video released by the TTP's media wing, Fazlullah was seen arriving in a training camp somewhere in a mountainous area with around two dozen masked men armed with assault rifles, pistols and rocket-propelled grenades.

"Our jihad will continue until sharia is enforced or we embrace martyrdom," Fazlullah said in the video, urging would-be militants to make contact with commanders.

"We have accepted the writ and power of Allah, and the Pakistan army, intelligence agencies and government will have to accept Allah's writ."

Hardline cleric Fazlullah first rose to prominence as the leader of the Taliban's two-year rule in the northwestern Swat Valley, which featured public floggings and executions.

Fazlullah, who has a $500,000 government bounty on his head, has mounted some brutal and humiliating attacks on Pakistan's military, including the beheading of 17 soldiers after an attack in June 2012.


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