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Daily Archives: April 6, 2009

High-level US officials visit Afghanistan

The top US military commander and special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan arrived in Kabul yesterday for high-level talks, a US official said, after NATO backed a new US strategy for the region.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and ambassador Richard Holbrooke would be in Afghanistan for a "few days", a US military spokesman told AFP.
"They will be meeting high-level officials in the Afghan government as well the international military," Colonel Greg Julian said.
The visit is their first since President Barack Obama last month unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan, drawn up after a two-month assessment of flagging efforts to subdue an extremist insurgency and stabilise the turbulent country.
Obama's NATO allies backed his Afghan war plan at a summit on Saturday, also pledging up to 5,000 more troops to add to 21,000 US soldiers the US leader said he would send to Afghanistan.

UN official freed by Pakistan kidnappers

The American UN official kidnapped in Pakistan two months ago was released unharmed yesterday, ending the most high profile hostage ordeal for a Westerner in Pakistan since Daniel Pearl's 2002 killing.
John Solecki, the local head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), was snatched at gunpoint in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan, on February 2. His driver was killed during the abduction.
"I can confirm that he has been released," UN spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told AFP. "A UN team has met him. He seems all right. The priority will be to get him medical attention."
Pagonis later said that Solecki had already left Pakistan. "He is on his way home. He was flown from Quetta," she told AFP, declining to give any further details.
Pakistan's interior ministry chief, Rehman Malik, confirmed that Solecki had been released after an ordeal lasting nearly nine weeks and said that preparations were being made to reunite him with his family.
"He has been found. He will be examined in a combined military hospital," Malik told Pakistan's Geo television.
Solecki's 83-year-old mother had urged the Pakistani public to help secure her son's release in an audio message released in February, saying that she and her 91-year-old husband had visited their son's friends in Baluchistan.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed gratitude to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and "many other people" for "working tirelessly" to secure Solecki's release.
His safety is a welcome piece of good news for the beleaguered government in Pakistan, battling a wave of deadly extremist Islamist violence and which was criticised by Poland over the beheading of a Polish hostage in February.
Pakistan had offered a reward of one million rupees (12,610 dollars) for information leading to Solecki's rescue. "We used all our resources to get his release," Malik said.
Security forces tailed the abductors but negotiations for Solecki's release were conducted through a committee that included influential tribal elders, he said.
The details surrounding his release were not immediately clear, and Solecki did not appear in public.
Baluchistan police chief Asif Nawaz Janjua told AFP Solecki had been found "safe and sound."
A shadowy organisation claiming to hold Solecki, the Baluchistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), had threatened to kill him unless the government freed more than 1,100 "prisoners," but numerous deadlines came and went.
A grainy video released by the kidnappers and shown on Pakistani television channels in February showed a blindfolded Solecki appealing for his release.
Hundreds of people have died in the oil and gas-rich province since late 2004, when rebels rose up to demand political autonomy and a greater share of profits from natural resources.
Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has also been hit by attacks blamed on Taliban militants.
Kidnappings of foreigners in Baluchistan are rare, although they have multiplied in northwest Pakistan, which also borders Afghanistan.