June 9, 2017 / 4:33 AM / in 6 months

China says teachers kidnapped in Pakistan likely dead

BEIJING (Reuters) - Pakistan has told China that two Chinese teachers kidnapped by Islamic State militants in Pakistan are likely dead, a foreign ministry spokeswoman in Beijing said on Friday, adding the government was trying to get more details.

Islamic State has claimed that its fighters killed the two teachers, who were kidnapped on May 24 in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, where China is investing billions of dollars in infrastructure projects. The two, a man and a woman, were kidnapped in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, by armed men pretending to be policemen.

“According to the most recent information Pakistan has provided, these two kidnapped Chinese citizens have probably already been murdered,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

China is trying to verify this information and is also ascertaining details about the victims, she added.

“China resolutely opposes and strongly condemns all forms of terrorism, and supports Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism and maintain domestic security and stability,” Hua said.

Pakistan had gone all out in its rescue efforts and had promised to continue to do its utmost to protect Chinese citizens, she added.

The kidnapping was a rare security incident involving Chinese nationals in Pakistan, where Beijing has pledged $57 billion under its massive “Belt and Road” initiative to build rail, road and power infrastructure.

China says Pakistan, a long-time political and military ally, is a major part of its plans to build a modern day “Silk Road” network of land and maritime routes to connect Asia with Africa and Europe. Key parts of the infrastructure will be in Baluchistan, including the new port of Gwadar, which will be linked to western China under current plans.

The killing of the teachers was claimed by Islamic State’s Amaq news agency on Thursday.

“Islamic State fighters killed two Chinese people they had been holding in Baluchistan province, southwest Pakistan,” Amaq said.

A Baluchistan government spokesman said officials were in the process of confirming whether the report was correct.

There was no immediate comment from Pakistan’s interior ministry or its foreign office.

GREATER CAUTION

Chinese state-run newspaper the Global Times, published by the official People’s Daily, said in an editorial on Friday China would never bow in the face of terror, but also said Chinese people should exercise greater caution abroad, especially in more remote areas.

“They also need to raise their ability to protect themselves, and as much as possible put distance between themselves and real danger,” it said.

The claim of the killings sparked anger on Chinese social media, with some strongly anti-Muslim comments.

Islamic State, which controls some territory in neighboring Afghanistan, has struggled to establish a presence in Pakistan. However, it has claimed several major attacks, including one on the deputy chairman of the Senate last month in Baluchistan, in which 25 people were killed.

On Thursday, Pakistan’s military published details of a three-day raid on a militant hideout in a cave not far from Quetta, saying it had killed 12 “hardcore terrorists” from a banned local Islamist group and prevented Islamic State from gaining a “foothold” in Baluchistan.

China’s ambassador to Pakistan and other officials have often urged Islamabad to improve security, especially in Baluchistan.

The numbers of Pakistanis studying Mandarin has skyrocketed since 2014, when President Xi Jinping signed off on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Consequently, any attack on Chinese interests in Pakistan would come as an embarrassment to Islamabad, which greatly prizes its relationship with Beijing. The two refer to each other as “all weather friends”.

Security in Baluchistan has improved in recent years, but separatists, who view infrastructure projects as a ruse to steal natural resources, killed 10 Pakistani workers building a road near Gwadar this month.

China has also expressed concern about militants in Pakistan linking up with what China views as separatists in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where hundreds have been killed in violence in recent years.

(Removes extraneous word “most” in paragraph 3.)

Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in Islamabad; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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