Taliban fighters free two Pakistani journalists

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Taliban militants released two Pakistani journalists on Saturday more than 36-hours after they were abducted in a tribal region near the Afghan border.

“When it was proven that they’re journalists and not spies, we freed them,” Taliban spokesman Asad said.

A group of tribal elders had gone to negotiate for the release of the journalists, freelance reporter Pir Zubair Shah and photographer Akhtar Soomro, after they were kidnapped in the Mohmand region on Thursday.

Syed Ahmad Jan, a senior administrator in Mohmand, confirmed that the two men had been freed and said both were fine.

Pro-Taliban groups control large chunks of territory in ethnic Pashtun regions, like Mohmand, and al Qaeda militants are also hiding in the area along the Afghan border.

The semi-autonomous tribal regions have never come under the full control of any government and security forces rarely entered the area before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Since then, under pressure from the United States to root militants out of sanctuaries, the government has been trying to extend its writ along the border.

But a succession of military offensives and peace pacts has failed to stem the militants’ growing strength.

Several Pakistani reporters covering the conflict have been killed. The government does not let foreign reporters into the tribal areas except on occasional trips with the military.

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