Afghan militants kidnap two charity workers and their guides

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The Independent Online

Two foreign medical workers and their three Afghan translators have been abducted in a remote part of north-east Afghanistan.

The women and their interpreters were travelling on horseback between the districts of Yaftal and Ragh in Badakhshan province when they were snatched by gunmen on Tuesday evening. The nationalities of the women were not disclosed.

The team, thought to have been with the Swiss aid organisation Medair, were on a trip to help women and children in rural areas. Abdul Maroof Rasek, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the group was taken to a town in Ragh, adding: "So far, the kidnappers have not been in touch with officials or police, and there has been no ransom demand."

He said district elders had been asked to ask for help find the kidnap victims and negotiate their release.

In August 2010, 10 aid workers including a British doctor, Karen Woo, were killed in an ambush in Badakhshan as they returned from a trip to provide eyecare to villagers in neighbouring Nuristan province. A month later, Oxfam temporarily suspended operations in the province after two of its workers and a volunteer died in a roadside bomb attack blamed on the Taliban.

Badakhshan is considered a relatively safe area of Aghanistan, despite Taliban units having moved into the province in recent years. Criminal gangs involved in drugs and weapons trafficking are known to be active there.

Meanwhile, 125 girls and three teachers were taken to hospital yesterday following a suspected poison attack on a school in neighbouring Takhar province. Most had been treated and discharged last night but 30, along with three women teachers, were still in hospital.

Police in Takhar said conservative radicals opposed to the education of girls had used an unidentified toxic powder to contaminate the air in classrooms.

The attack was the second such incident in as many months. In April, 150 schoolgirls in the same Afghan province were poisoned after they drank contaminated water.