Taliban seeks exchange for aid workers

By NOOR KHAN, Associated Press
A purported Taliban statement demanded the release of a number of the group’s fighters and the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the freedom of two kidnapped French aid workers.

Separately, suspected Taliban militants ambushed a police patrol in eastern Afghanistan in a clash that left five militants and one police officer dead, while NATO-led troops shot and killed a suspected militant and wounded another in the south, officials said.

The Taliban has claimed it abducted a French man and woman and three Afghans from the aid group Terre d’Enfance who disappeared April 3, in the southwestern Nimroz province.

The apparent kidnapping came after Afghan authorities released five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian newspaper reporter, who was abducted along with his two Afghan colleagues in southern Helmand province on March 5. The two Afghans were killed.

The exchange was widely criticized by Afghan lawmakers, analysts and international workers, who said it would encourage further abductions.

In the statement posted on a Web site Friday, the Taliban gave the Afghan government one week to meet their demands in the latest disappearance. Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, contacted an Associated Press reporter by phone to inform him about the posting.

“We have given the list of the Taliban prisoners to the government and the government should release these Taliban,” Ahmadi said, speaking from an undisclosed location.

Afghanistan’s authorities were not immediately available for comments.

Ahmadi also said that the French troops, serving in the NATO-led force, should leave Afghanistan.

“Otherwise we will kill these two French aid workers and three Afghans,” Ahmadi said.

The French Embassy in Kabul was aware of the posting and is analyzing it, said an embassy official on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

France has about 1,000 troops in the 36,000-strong NATO-led force.

Antoine Vuillaume, the president of Terre d’Enfance, called the ultimatum a “new shock.”

Speaking Saturday on French RTL radio, Vuillaume said the Taliban’s demands “go beyond the framework of our association and our humanitarian work.”

The ultimatum “involves questions of politics and strategy that have absolutely nothing to do with our work with children,” he said.

“We continue to put our trust in the French and Afghan authorities so that everything be done to avoid the worst outcome,” Vuillaume said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ruled out any future exchanges but has told French President Jacques Chirac that Afghan authorities will do their best to secure their release

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