ISLAMABAD: Pakistani tribal elders are holding talks with Taliban militants in Afghanistan for the release of scores of young tribesmen kidnapped during an outing along the border, officials said on Sunday.
(Read: Taliban claim abduction of over 30 Pakistani boys)
The teenage tribesmen from Pakistan's northwestern Bajaur tribal region were abducted by the militants on Thursday while they were on an outing in Afghanistan's border province of Kunar on the Muslim festival of Eid.
"A tribal jirga (council) from Bajaur is currently holding talks with the terrorists," Pakistan military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said.
"The future course of action will be decided by tribal elders from both sides of the border."
Pakistani government officials had initially said around 60 boys from the ethnic Pashtun Mamoun tribe took part in the outing. But about 20 below ten years were allowed to return to Pakistan, while up to 40 others between 12 to 14 years old were held.
Abbas said in total 40 young tribesmen were abducted. He said 10 of the boys were released while 30 were still in custody.
Under centuries-old tribal customs, tribesmen living along the frontier can freely move across the border.
A spokesman for Pakistani Taliban, many of whom have fled into Afghanistan in the face of Pakistan military offensives in Bajaur, on Saturday claimed responsibility for the kidnappings as punishment against the tribe for supporting the military.
The Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said they had a plan of mass-scale kidnappings and expected people in large numbers to visit the border region on Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Sultan Zeb, a tribal elder in Bajaur, said militants loyal to Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, the top Taliban commander in Bajaur who Pakistani authorities say has also fled to Afghanistan, were involved in the kidnapping.
"We have established contact with the Taliban through their relatives and friends and we hope they will release the abducted people very soon. The kidnappers have not made demand for ransom or any other demand for the release," he told Reuters by telephone from Bajaur.
The Mamoun tribe is opposed to al Qaeda and Taliban and has raised militias to fight them, angering militants who often hit back with bombings and shooting attacks.
Bajaur, which lies opposite to Kunar, has long been an infiltration route for militants entering Afghanistan to fight US-led forces there.
But Pakistani officials say many of Pakistani militants who have fled to Afghanistan have established sanctuaries there. Pakistan late last month lodged a protest with the Afghan government after officials said hundreds of militants from Afghanistan launched a raid on Pakistani border posts in northwestern Chitral district, killing up to 36 people, most of them soldiers.
Twenty-seven Pakistani servicemen and 45 militants died in clashes in July when some 600 militants from Afghanistan attacked Pakistani border villages.