Two Britons and their translator murdered by Taliban

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Two Britons and their local translator were shot dead in Afghanistan yesterday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the murders.

The men, employed by the London-based security company Global Risk Strategies, were working on a United Nations programme to register voters for forthcoming elections in the country. A Taliban commander, Mullah Sabir Momin, said that his men had carried out the killings in the province of Nuristan, 85 miles east of Kabul, the capital.

In a telephone call to the Reuters news agency, Mullah Momin said: " The two British non-believers and their Afghan translator were killed by the Taliban because we are killing all locals and foreigners who are helping the Americans to consolidate their occupation of Afghanistan."

The deaths were the latest in a series of attacks on foreigners. Five weeks ago a foreign aid worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed in the southern city of Kandahar, and in November a French woman, who was working for the UN, was killed in Ghazni. About 700 people have died in Afghanistan in the past nine months.

The Taliban appear to be resurgent in the Pashtun provinces of the south, while followers of the Islamist leader Gulbuddin Hikmatyar have been responsible for bombings in the cities. More than 100 people were killed during March in the western city of Heart, including the son of the warlord Ishmail Khan in fighting between his forces and those loyal to the American-sponsored interim President Hamid Karzai. Twenty Afghans, including two aid workers, were killed in Taliban attacks in the past two weeks.

The Afghan elections, originally scheduled for June, have already been postponed once because of security concerns from June to September. American diplomatic sources acknowledged yesterday that further delays would damage the credibility of the administration of President Karzai.

Farooq Wardak, the Kabul government's senior official for election planning, said the deaths would have "very serious consequences" by possibly deterring UN international monitors. He said: "The election wouldn't have much international credibility without them."