13 Feb 2009

NZ man arrested in Pakistan 'safe and well'

8:37 pm on 13 February 2009

A New Zealand man arrested by Pakistani security forces near the Afghan border is safe and well, says New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mark Taylor, 35, was arrested at a checkpoint at the town of Tank, about 280km south-west of Pakistan and had been travelling on a bus bound for Wana, the main town in the lawless South Waziristan region.

Suspicion about Mr Taylor arose because he was in a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold, off-limits to foreigners and plagued by militant violence.

Officials from Pakistan's Military Command for South Waziristan province have told New Zealand's honorary consul in Karachi that Mr Taylor had had a good night's sleep and would remain in detention for further questioning.

The Consul will continue to seek permission to talk to him directly, and the British High Commission in Pakistan is also making inquiries on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says the Consul is working as aggressively as possible to set up a meeting with Mr Taylor.

When detained, Mr Taylor is said to have been wearing the local Pakistani clothing, a shalwar kamiz, and to have grown a beard since his passport photograph was taken.

He apparently told soldiers who arrested him that he was going to South Waziristan to get married.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff in Wellington say Mr Taylor's family have been informed about his detention. They say his family are refusing all contact with media.

South Waziristan is one of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun tribal regions that have long been off-limits for foreigners without special permission.