Search on for missing Japanese teachers

Kabul, August 27:

Afghan authorities said today that they have launched a massive search for two Japanese schoolteachers missing in the region, while a Japanese diplomat said he was optimistic they are still alive and have not been kidnapped. Two Taliban commanders in southern Afghanistan

said the rebels had not abducted or killed the pair. The two teachers — a man and a woman

— crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan on August 8 and have not been seen or heard from

since, said Kenji Saito, the first secretary at the Japanese Embassy in Kabul. The two had been expected to return to Japan last week, but have not come home. “If they had been killed, someone would have found the bodies and we would know. I don’t believe they are dead,” Saito said.

“We also don’t believe that they have been kidnapped, because no one has contacted us to make demands.” “But we have no information as to where they are, though we are doing our best to find out.” Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal said police in areas near the Pakistan border have been ordered to search for the pair, but he said it was still not clear whether they actually entered Afghanistan. Taliban commanders Mullah Mohammed Nazir and Mullah Mohammed Alum, both of whom are in different parts of southern Afghanistan, said they had not kidnapped or killed the two.