Taliban captors release Afghan aid workers

AP News
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Posted: Oct 11, 2011 10:13 AM
Taliban captors release Afghan aid workers

Militants on Tuesday released four Afghans working for a French development organization that had been abducted a day earlier after local elders intervened, an official with the organization said.

Ziggy Garewal, the country director for the French organization ACTED, said that the captors were members of the Taliban, but she did not have additional information about why members of her staff in northern Faryab province were abducted or what the captors' demands were. She said no money had been paid for the release of the staffers.

Abdul Satar Barez, the northern province's deputy governor, also said the captors were Taliban militants.

NATO and Afghan military strikes in the south have made it more difficult for Taliban militants to operate from their traditional regional bases there, pushing many to flee north where violence has increased in recent years. While attacks in Faryab are not as common as elsewhere in Afghanistan, the abduction of the four Afghans reflects the complex security issues facing the country.

Garewel said that ACTED, with about 350 employees in Faryab, is reviewing its ability to continue work in the area, which has long been a dangerous location for their employees. The French organization works on health and education issues.

However, she credited the release of the four Afghans to efforts by locals who appeared to have met with the Taliban captors.

"It was thanks to local elders mediating," Garewel said.

The team was driving back from a training session in Faryab on Monday when they were ambushed by a man on a motorcycle, Barez said, adding that multiple people were involved in seizing the group.

The three trainers and a driver were coming back from conducting hygiene training at a mosque when they were kidnapped, Garewal said.

Although Barez said that the group could have taken more security precautions by alerting the government to their movements, Garewal said that the provincial government is well aware of where her organization works in the province.

Elsewhere, in the capital Kabul, former parliamentarian Simeen Barakzai continued a hunger strike in protest to her removal from office. The lawmaker from Herat has abstained from food and drink for 10 days. She has vowed to continue fasting until the government reopens investigations into allegations of vote fraud against the woman who took her seat.

The dispute over the Afghan parliamentary elections, which took place more than a year ago, has made it difficult for the legislature to do any substantial work at a time when it is considered one of the few potential counterweights to the powerful president.

Afghan election officials said Tuesday that they stand by their decision to remove Barakzai and eight other lawmakers from office after a review of election results, and are willing to make public to anyone who asks how they arrived to their decision.

"Whoever is interested, any relevant institutions interested in the issue, and whatever information is needed from our office, we are ready to cooperate regarding Ms. Barakzai's case," said Fazel Ahmad Manawi, the head of the Afghan election commission.

Meanwhile, in eastern Wardak province, three family members were killed Monday when they walked on an explosive laid in their path. A statement from the Wardak province governor's office said that the dead included two women and one man.

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Rahim Faiez and Heidi Vogt contributed to this report from Kabul.