Kidnapped French nationals freed in Afghanistan
Two French aid workers kidnapped have been freed after more than two weeks with four men being detained in connection with the kidnapping.4 August 2008
KABUL - Two French aid workers kidnapped in July in central Afghanistan have been freed after more than two weeks in captivity, their employers and the Afghan government said Saturday.
The governor of the province of Day Kundi, where the two Action Against Hunger (Action Contre la Faim) workers were taken from their home on 18 July, said four men had been detained in connection with the kidnapping.
"Action Against Hunger was relieved to learn this morning the liberation of its two expatriates who were kidnapped 15 days ago in Afghanistan," the aid group said in a statement.
"Our colleagues ... are apparently healthy," it said.
"Everything is (being) done to organise as soon as possible their trip back to France."
The men, aged in their 30s, were in good health and doing well, Action Against Hunger spokeswoman Elise Rodriguez told AFP in Paris.
Their office in Afghanistan was organising their return to Kabul in liaison with the Afghan and French authorities after which they would return to France, she said.
Rodriguez would not give details of how they were freed.
Day Kundi governor Sultan Muhammad Urzgani said the two men were released after negotiations led by tribal elders and a delegation appointed by President Hamid Karzai that had been sent from the capital, Kabul.
"They were handed to their organisation," Urzgani said.
"Four people have been detained and are in our custody. They are suspected of being involved in the kidnapping."
He identified one of the men as Sadaqat.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported in July that a former Taliban commander of the same name had told its Afghanistan service that his militia fighters were responsible for the kidnapping.
It named the commander as from the Hazara ethnic minority, and said he had not imposed conditions for their release.
To prove he had the men, Sadaqat put the broadcaster in touch by telephone with a man who identified himself as one of two hostages, it said.
The commander had said he was no longer a Taliban supporter and was not an enemy of Afghanistan's government but had ordered the kidnapping because of "problems with local authorities".
The Afghan interior ministry confirmed the men were freed, saying police had played a role, but would not comment on who had captured them.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomed Saturday's release and sent a message of thanks to Karzai, his office said.
Sarkozy "is delighted and expresses his relief after the announcement of the release of our two compatriots," it said in a statement.
The French president expressed gratitude to Karzai for his "personal involvement, thanks to which this hostage-taking has ended swiftly and happily," it said.
Day Kundi, about 300 kilometres east of the capital, is one of Afghanistan's poorest provinces.
Action Contre Faim has projects there to improve access to food and water and sanitation, according to the group's website.
The organisation, with only 10 expatriate staff in Afghanistan, had suspended its relief operations in the country after the abductions.
The insurgent Taliban has been involved in a series of kidnappings in Afghanistan but denied any role in the abduction of the French aid workers.
Kidnappings by criminal gangs seeking ransom have also soared in Afghanistan as security has deteriorated after the 2001 ouster of the Taliban government.
[AFP / Expatica]