Quetta: Pakistan has launched a search operation and engaged tribal elders to help secure the release of a Swiss couple abducted in the insurgency-hit southwest, officials said on Saturday.

The Swiss nationals were kidnapped on Friday while travelling in impoverished and sparsely populated Baluchistan province, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan.

They were seized in Loralai District, 170 kilometres (105 miles) east of the provincial capital Quetta, Provincial Home Secretary Zafarullah Baloch told a news agency.

"We have launched an intense search. We have alerted police and paramilitary troops and we have also contacted tribal elders to help us locate the abductees," said Sohail-ur-Rehman, Deputy Commissioner of Loralai.

Loralai Police Chief Ghulam Ali Lashari said officers had found the couple's Volkswagen vehicle abandoned in Killi Nigah area.

The couple arrived at Sirki Jungle checkpoint at about 5:45 pm (1245 GMT) on Friday, registered as Swiss tourists and were allowed to enter an area controlled by tribal police, Lashari said.
Officials quoting witnesses said "some unknown gunmen intercepted the Swiss couple when they were travelling in Killi Nigah area and took them away to an unknown place."

"Our priority is their safe recovery," Rehman said     "We have no clues so far, we have received no demand, no ransom demand from the kidnappers."

Provincial Home Secretary Baloch said the search operation had been extended to three Districts -- Loralai, Zhob and Qila Saifullah. Security had been tightened on roads and tracks in these Districts, he added.

"Our focus is on Zhob" which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan's lawless tribal areas in the Northwest, Rehman said.

Security forces were remaining vigilant to ensure the gunmen do not shift them to Afghanistan or the tribal areas, he said.

Officials said the couple had entered Baluchistan from Dera Ghazi Khan District in Punjab Province and might have been heading for Quetta, perhaps on their way to Iran.