UN hostages freed in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

Three UN workers kidnapped in Afghanistan have been released unharmed after nearly four weeks in captivity, officials said today.

Three UN workers kidnapped in Afghanistan have been released unharmed after nearly four weeks in captivity, officials said today.

"They are out," UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.

Armed men seized Philippine diplomat Angelito Nayan, British-Irish citizen Annetta Flanigan and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo on 28 October, the first abduction of foreigners in the Afghan capital since the Taliban fell three years ago.

Officials said the three were freed overnight and had undergone medical examinations at a Nato field hospital in Kabul that showed all were in good health.

The news came hours after US and Afghan forces raided two houses in downtown Kabul yesterday and detained 10 people in connection with the abductions.

Most of the detainees were released after being questioned, an Afghan intelligence official said, and it was not clear if the arrest of a doctor who worked at a UN clinic in the city had hastened the hostages' release.

Afghan officials believe a criminal gang carried out the abductions, and have said that negotiations centred on a ransom demand.

Still, a spokesman for Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said: "There has been no payment of ransom."

"We appreciate the efforts of the UN as well as the Afghan government," Silvestre Afable said.

It remains unclear if the kidnappers were working for a Taliban-linked group that claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded that Afghan and US authorities free jailed comrades.

Syed Khalid, a spokesman for Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, said today that it had freed the hostages overnight against an "assurance that the release of our 24 people would begin today."

His claims could not be verified. Afable, the Philippine spokesman, insisted there was no prisoner-for-hostage exchange.

Almeida e Silva declined to elaborate on how the three were released, saying the Afghan Interior Minister would provide details at a news conference later today.

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said the trio were "abandoned in one location inside Kabul" around 6 a.m. Tuesday.

He said discussions had been held with the kidnappers, whom he declined to identify, but insisted no deal was done and that the releases were unconditional.

"There is no deal with the kidnappers. They will be brought to justice," he told a press conference.

He said it was "possible" that a Taliban-linked group which has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings had hired some criminals to abduct the three, who were in Afghanistan to organise October 9 presidential elections.

The group, Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, had demanded that Afghan and US authorities free jailed comrades.

"I cannot say they were not involved," Jalali said.

He also said one person was killed and four injured in another police operation linked to the kidnapping north of Kabul yesterday.

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