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Pakistan says 17 killed in Swat Valley fighting

The clashes leave a soldier and 16 militants dead, the government says. The region, not far from the capital, is now dominated by Taliban forces.

February 02, 2009|Associated Press

QUETTA, PAKISTAN — Gunmen kidnapped an American who heads the U.N. refugee office here and killed his driver today, police said.

The abduction occurred as John Solecki was heading to his job, senior police official Khalid Masood said.

"Solecki has been serving in Quetta for more than two years," Masood said. "We cannot speculate on the motive behind the crime."

U.N. spokeswoman Amena Kamaal in Islamabad confirmed that a Pakistani driver was killed and that a foreign national employee's whereabouts were unknown but declined to release details pending notification of relatives. U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said officials were looking into the case.

Quetta is in Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has worked in the region helping Afghans fleeing violence in their homeland.

At the scene of the kidnapping, a UNHCR vehicle with a bullet hole was rammed against a wall.

The abduction came a day after at least 16 suspected militants and one soldier were killed in clashes in northwestern Pakistan's Swat Valley, the military said Sunday.

Swat lies outside the tribal regions along the Afghan border where Al Qaeda and the Taliban have had strongholds. Residents say militants now control most of the valley, despite an army operation that began more than a year ago.

Taliban fighters have set up their own courts, destroyed scores of girls' schools and reportedly driven out hundreds of thousands of Swat residents.

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