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Gunmen kidnap 100 Pakistani villagers in northwest, government says

By Jibran Ahmad

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Gunmen stormed a village gathering in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday and kidnapped around 100 men, Pakistani government officials said.

Officials said they suspected that the gunmen are Taliban who attacked because the villagers supported the government.

Three local government officials told Reuters that the gunmen had initially taken around 100 villagers from a gathering in the remote region on the border of Orakzai and Khyber tribal areas, both of which border Afghanistan, but had later released around 40 of them.

The officials all asked to remain anonymous because negotiations for the men's release were ongoing.

"The government has no writ in those areas between Orakzai and Khyber tribal region but we are hearing from the local people that tribal elders had sent (elders) to the Taliban to release the kidnapped villagers without any condition," one official said.

Another official said that law-enforcement agencies had launched a search operation in the area for the safe recovery of the villagers.

"Yes they kidnapped over 100 villagers but later released some of them. I hope they will free others as well as the tribal elders have been working on," the senior official said.

The Taliban and Pakistani government are currently involved in peace talks. The Taliban officially observed a ceasefire from March 1 to April 10, but the insurgency is split over whether to renew it. The two rival Taliban factions are currently fighting each other.

The Pakistani Taliban are a loose alliance of militant groups fighting to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of Islamic law on Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.

In northwest Pakistan, where the Taliban are strongest, many Pakistani villagers have formed self-defense militias known as lashkars to fight against the insurgency.

(Writing By Katharine Houreld)

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