Swiss pair free after Taliban ordeal, Pakistan army says

A Swiss couple held hostage by the Pakistani Taliban are free after an eight-month ordeal, the army says.

The man and woman were kidnapped last July in Balochistan province.

They turned up at a military checkpoint in the North Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border on Thursday, the army says.

Unconfirmed reports say the pair may have escaped from their captors, but it is not clear if a ransom was paid or if they were part of a prisoner swap.

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter insisted that his country did not pay a ransom to secure their release. He told a news conference that the couple fled from their captors.

Mr Burkhalter said that he had spoken to them by telephone in a "very emotional" conversation.

The couple reported this morning at a military checkpoint in Tull area, just on the border with North Waziristan, Pakistan's military said.

Officials said they had to be given medical treatment when they first arrived.

But the pair appeared to be in good health and smiled and waved as they walked out of the military helicopter that transported them to Peshawar and then Islamabad.

The couple say they were abducted while travelling in a camper van from India to Switzerland.

Military spokesman Athar Abbas told the BBC that the pair were now in Islamabad and would be handed over to the Swiss mission through the Pakistani foreign office after paperwork had been completed.

"Our people in Peshawar say the couple told them they escaped from Taliban captivity," Gen Abbas said.

"I am not aware of their detailed account and therefore cannot say where in North Waziristan they were kept, or how far they had to walk before arriving at our checkpoint."

The couple - Daniela Widmer, 29, and Olivier David Och, 31 - were last seen pleading for their lives in a militant video released in October.

They were abducted by unidentified gunmen from the Loralai area of Balochistan - close to the border with South Waziristan - in July last year.

It is reported they were travelling by road from the town of Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab province to the Balochistan capital, Quetta.

They were then taken to South Waziristan before finally emerging on Thursday at the checkpoint on the outskirts of the town of Tull - close to the North Waziristan border with the Kurram tribal area.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that the Taliban and criminal gangs demanding ransoms in north-west Pakistan are often interchangeable.

Our correspondent says the Taliban are able to raise significant funding for their militant activities by collecting ransom money for kidnapped foreigners, who also provide their captives with leverage to make prisoner-exchange demands.

Such revenue is becoming all the more important to militants now that al-Qaeda funding in the region is beginning to dry up, our correspondent says.

Since 2004, there have been more than a dozen incidents in which one or more foreigners have been kidnapped in Pakistan.

One of the more high profile incidents is that of 70-year-old US aid expert Warren Weinstein, who was kidnapped by armed men - believed to be from al-Qaeda - in Lahore nearly four months ago.

Soon after the Swiss couple's abduction, a Taliban spokesman said they were in their custody and would be released if the American government freed Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman jailed in the US for attempting to kill US officials in Afghanistan.

The Taliban later also demanded the release of other Afghan prisoners in US custody.

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