By Aamir Latif
Pakistani security forces rescued 16 foreigners and two Pakistanis in an operation against suspected separatists near the Pakistan-Iran border, officials and local media reported Monday.
The operation was conducted in the Turbat region of southwestern Balochistan province which borders Iran and Afghanistan, local broadcaster Express TV reported, quoting unnamed security officials who were not allowed to speak to the media.
The foreigners, who are from Nigeria and Yemen, were taken hostage by Baloch separatists while they were trying to enter Iran, officials said.
Human traffickers frequently smuggle illegal immigrants to Europe via Iran and Turkey.
Security forces claimed to have arrested two captors and recovered a huge cache of weapons.
The operation follows the cold-blooded murder of 20 Pakistani illegal immigrants by suspected Baloch separatists last week in Turbat, prompting security forces to launch a large-scale operation in the area.
Mineral-rich Balochistan province, which is the size of Italy, has been a hotbed of violence for the past decade. Security forces have been fighting a low-intensity rebellion in the province for the last six decades.
The separatists claim the province, which is a key route of the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, had been forcibly incorporated into Pakistan following the end of British colonial rule in united India in 1947.