- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2009

QUETTA, Pakistan | Kidnappers holding an American U.N. worker hostage released a video of him Friday appealing to the world body to act quickly to secure his release.

In a letter accompanying the video delivered to a Pakistani news agency, the kidnappers said the hostage, John Solecki, would be killed within 72 hours unless authorities release 141 women purportedly held in Pakistan.

The video and the demands indicate that Mr. Solecki, the head of the U.N. refugee agency in Quetta, a city near the Afghan border, is still alive and that his captors want to negotiate.

The kidnappers have identified themselves as the Baluchistan Liberation United Front, suggesting a link to local separatists who have waged a long, low-level insurgency against the Pakistani government. They apparently are not linked to the Taliban or al Qaeda, who are fighting U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

Still, the death threat heightens fears for Mr. Solecki’s safety just a week after Taliban militants apparently beheaded a Polish geologist abducted in another border area of Pakistan after failing to agree to a prisoner swap.

The Pole’s slaying, if confirmed, would be the first killing of a Western hostage in Pakistan since U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in 2002.

Gunmen seized Mr. Solecki on Feb. 2 as he drove to work in Quetta, after they shot and killed his driver.

Days later, the previously unknown Baluchistan Liberation United Front claimed responsibility for the kidnapping in a telephone call to the Quetta office of Online International News Network, a Pakistan-based news agency.

Online said it received an anonymous telephone call on Friday telling it to collect a parcel from the post office, in which it found a mobile-phone memory card containing the video as well as the letter.

It supplied a copy of the video to Associated Press Television News and allowed an AP reporter to see the letter.

Mr. Solecki, who appears blindfolded and with a shawl draped over his shoulders in the 20-second clip, says that his message is addressed to the United Nations.

“I am not feeling well. I am sick and in trouble. Please help solve the problem soon so that I can gain my release,” Mr. Solecki says.

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