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Published: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 12:50:03 AM
Updated: Monday April 14, 2014 MYT 12:51:18 AM

Most Pakistani villagers abducted from 'hashish festival' freed

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Gunmen on Sunday freed most of the Pakistani villagers they had kidnapped from a hashish festival in the remote mountainous northwest, a government official said.

The gunmen, suspected to be Taliban, raided the festival on Saturday and seized around 100 men. Around 40 were released that day, and most of the rest on Sunday, the official said.

The official asked for anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media and negotiations for the remaining captives' release were continuing.

Seven men were still believed to be held. The raid took place on the border between Khyber and Orakzai, two tribal regions in northwest Pakistan that border Afghanistan.

Initial reports suggested the men may have been seized because they supported the government against the Taliban.

But local media reported that the men had been attending a hashish festival, which local channels described as a gathering where men came together to smoke and sell large quantities of hashish. Large quantities of the drug were also seized, local television reported.

The Taliban insurgents have been fighting to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of Islamic law on Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.

They are officially against the drug trade, although many commanders are known to tax and smuggle narcotics such as hashish and opium.

(Reporting By Katharine Houreld; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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