PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Suspected Taliban militants in Afghanistan have kidnapped as many as 40 Pakistani boys after they inadvertently strayed across the border, Pakistani officials said Friday.
The boys, from the town of Mamoun in the Pashtun tribal region of Bajaur, were trekking when they ended up in Afghanistan Wednesday, the officials said.
“Now, they are being held by militants across the border,” Pakistan government official Muhammad Haseeb Khan told Reuters.
It was not possible to verify the claim. Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry considers the claim a “rumour,” a spokesman in Kabul said.
Security officials said they learned of the kidnappings when the parents of the children, members of a tribe that inhabits the frontier area, informed them of the abductions on Friday.
Khan said about 20 boys below ten years old in the group were allowed to return to Pakistan, But boys between 12 to 14 years old were held.
About 60 children took part in the outing.
Tribal elders and clerics were trying to negotiate with the militants to secure their release, officials said.
Bajaur is opposite the eastern Afghan province of Kunar and has long been an infiltration route for militants entering Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces there.
Tribesmen from Mamoun are opposed to al Qaeda and the Taliban and have raised militias to fight them, angering militants who often hit back with bombings and shooting attacks.
Writing by Augustine Anthony; Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul; Editing by Ed Lane