Belgian Hostages Freed

Two Belgian tourists missing for days after a kidnapping in the southeastern Iran are free and in good health, Belgium’s foreign ministry said. The ministry said the missing couple had contacted relatives to say they were safe, but that authorities had not yet located them.

“The mother of one of the two Belgians talked with one of the missing pair by phone. They confirmed that they were safe in an isolated place 150 kilometers (95 miles) southwest of the area where they went missing,” the ministry said in a statement.

Both were in good health, the ministry added.

“They told us that they were now safe and that we shouldn’t worry any more,” Daniel Bouve, the father of one of the two tourists, said on Belgian television.

Local police said the Belgian couple had been kidnapped on the road between the towns of Bam and Zahedan, capital of the Sistan and Baluchestan province, by a known bandit leader who demanded the release of his brother from jail as the condition for their freedom.

Iranian officials said the pair were abducted on Sunday while driving in a private car on a road between the city of Bam in the southeastern Province of Kerman and Zahedan, the capital city of Sistan and Balouchestan.

The Belgian authorities were in constant touch with their Iranian counterparts in a bid to ensure a safe outcome to the incident. The pair had not notified the embassy in Tehran of their intention to travel in the high-risk southeast of Iran, near the Pakistan and Afghan borders.

Despite stringent warnings by their foreign ministries to avoid the area, foreign tourists are still known to use the road to cross from Iran into Pakistan, often using their own transport rather than bus services.

Iranian security forces are frequently involved in deadly shootouts in the region with drug traffickers who use Iran as a transit point to bring drugs from Afghanistan into Europe.

Sistan and Baluchestan is also sometimes the scene of attacks by the terrorist Jundallah militant group, which was responsible for a deadly blast in Zahedan that killed 13 Iranian Revolutionary Guards earlier this year.

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