Pakistan denies arresting nuclear 'spies'

Pakistan's interior ministry on Saturday denied that two Italians had been arrested by authorities in southern Pakistan for having classified documents linked to the country's nuclear facilities.

    The two Italian cyclists, who are on a world tour, were travelling through the area on 18 June.


    An earlier report had claimed the pair were under detention suspected of garnering sensitive details about Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.


    But  nothing of the sort happened, an interior ministry spokesman said in a later statement.


    The statement did not give out their official names nor did it reveal their whereabouts.


    "We have only identified the two Italians as Bruzzune, 35 and Claudio, 40," said Zulfiqar Bhatti, manager of the Shalimar Hotel, from where the pair was supposed to have been arrested. Bhatti had said both  did not have Pakistan visas. But, the interior ministry in its denial said the pair was travelling with valid travel documents.


    Knowledge of the Pakistan army's nuclear
    programme is coveted by many countries

    Earlier in the day, Multan district police officer Qamar-uz-Zaman said the Italian pair was arrested by military intelligence at Dera Ghazi Khan when they were found to be in possession of classified documents linked with Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.


    Corroborating this, the hotel manager had said the Italians were taken by plain clothes officers from their rooms at 11.00 pm (1800 GMT) and they had not returned.


    After the arrest of the two Italians, the Punjab provincial home department imposed a ban on the entry of all foreigners into Dera Ghazi Khan city and directed hotels not to give rooms to foreigners.


    However, foreigners with special permission granted by the home secretary will be exempted from these restrictions, Zaman said.


    Pakistan has been developing a nuclear programme to match arch-rival India since the 1970's. It only went public in May 1998 when it tested five nuclear devices.


    It is estimated to possess between 25 and 50 nuclear warheads, according to Jane's Defence Weekly.


    Pakistan has an uranium enrichment plant and a plutonium reprocessing plant close to the capital Islamabad and at least four nuclear reactors across the country.


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