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Kazakhstan says dozens of 'hostages' evacuated from Syria

Hundreds of Kazakhs have left the Muslim-majority country to join up with militant groups in Syria since 2011, according to Kazakhstan's security services.

Syrian flag. Picture: AFP

ALMATY - Kazakhstan on Wednesday said dozens of its citizens, including children, had been evacuated from Syria after being held "hostage" in the country.

Hundreds of Kazakhs have left the Muslim-majority country to join up with militant groups in Syria since 2011, according to Kazakhstan's security services.

"On 6 January this year... 47 citizens of Kazakhstan, including 30 children, were evacuated from Syria," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said.

"They were deceived into going to this country in crisis where they were held hostage by terrorists," Nazarbayev said.

"We will continue to work on the return of children who (were taken to) a combat zone against their will," he added, without providing details of the operation.

In 2014, authorities reacted to an official Islamic State (IS) group propaganda video showing Kazakh child soldiers training by blocking media outlets that shared the footage.

One such outlet, British tabloid The Daily Mail, only became accessible in the ex-Soviet country late last year.

Kazakhstan has hosted a series of talks on Syria brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey since the beginning of 2017.

The talks have featured negotiators from the Syrian regime and armed rebel factions but not militant groups such as IS.

Thousands from other Central Asian nations and the Caucasus have travelled to Syria to join jihadists since war broke out there.

The conflict flared with anti-government protests in 2011 that were brutally repressed, sparking a complex multi-front civil war involving a myriad of jihadist groups and foreign powers.

It has left more than 360,000 people dead and displaced millions.

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