Afghan insurgents hang boy, aged 8

Insurgents in southern Afghanistan hanged an 8-year-old boy six days after abducting him, the Afghan government has said.

The boy's captors had demanded that his father, a police officer, supply them with a police vehicle and he refused, said a statement from President Hamid Karzai's office on Sunday. The militants hanged the boy on Friday in Helmand province's Gereshk district.

"President Karzai both strongly condemns this act and rejects it as a brutal and cowardly crime that is not acceptable in any religion or culture," the statement said. It referred to the killers as "terrorists", but did not say if they belonged to the Taliban or another of the insurgent movements fighting foreign forces and their Afghan allies.

Kidnappings have become increasingly common in Afghanistan, both by criminal groups looking for ransoms and insurgents making a political statement. Most abductions are settled out of the public eye, with negotiations and cash payments.

Separately yesterday, the Ministry of Defence expressed "deep regret" that five children were injured when British forces operating an Apache helicopter opened fire on suspected insurgents in Afghanistan.

The ministry said the incident happened on Saturday in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.

Officials said insurgents had been positively identified, and the five children were in an adjoining field.

The ministry said any incident involving civilian casualties was a matter of "deep regret".

It said that a shooting incident review is under way and the provincial government was being kept informed of developments.

Meanwhile, America's new top diplomat in Afghanistan sought to allay the fears of the Afghan people who worry that the US is abandoning the nation after the drawdown of American forces began.

Ryan Crocker, a veteran diplomat who served in Iraq, formally took over as ambassador just as President Barack Obama began withdrawing some of the 33,000 American reinforcement troops he sent in December 2009. Some Republican lawmakers call the withdrawal plan too risky, saying it does not leave enough coalition troops in the country to deal a decisive blow to the insurgency.

"We must proceed carefully," Mr Crocker said at his swearing-in ceremony at the US embassy in Kabul. "There will be no rush for the exits. The way we do this in the months ahead will have consequences far beyond Afghanistan and far in the future."

Crocker is faced with mending relations with President Karzai, who publicly cast doubt on America's commitment and has wooed the support of other nations in the region, such as Iran. AP