Abducted Iranian border guards freed in Pakistan: lawmaker

ANKARA Fri Apr 4, 2014 8:48am EDT

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ANKARA (Reuters) - Four Iranian border guards have been freed in Pakistan two months after they were seized by al Qaeda-linked militants on the countries' lawless frontier, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency quoted a lawmaker as saying on Friday.

The abduction in early February heightened regional and sectarian tensions. Iran had said the guards were taken into Pakistan and it threatened to send troops over the border to retrieve them.

The kidnapping was claimed by Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), a Sunni Muslim rebel group operating in predominantly Shi'ite Muslim Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan province, which borders Pakistan. The movement said it had killed a fifth member of the group of guards in March.

"Four of the five abducted Iranian border guards have been handed over to Iranian embassy officials in Pakistan," Fars quoted Iranian lawmaker Esmail Kosari as saying.

Fars did not give any details of when the release took place or what brought it about. But Iran's Students News agency ISNA quoted a statement from Jaish al-Adl saying "Sunni clerics' mediation led to the guards' release ... as a sign of our goodwill".

Fars also said the body of the slain guard had been handed over to Tehran's embassy in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government had repeatedly said there was no evidence the Iranian guards were on its territory. The Iranian government accused its neighbour of not doing enough to free the men and of supporting the rebels.

The border region is also rife with drug and arms traffickers.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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