KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – Two French aid workers held by the Taliban in Afghanistan are well, the Islamist movement said, a day ahead of an apparent deadline for demands to be met for their freedom.
The Taliban, which has beheaded several of its captives, said April 20 French troops must be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Kabul must release Taliban prisoners within a week.
“Without this, the position of Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) about foreign prisoners was clear to the world and (will) soon be applied,” it said in a statement on its website.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP Thursday he could not comment on the deadline.
The two aid workers for French nongovernment organisation Terre d’Enfance (A World For Our Children) went missing in southwestern Afghanistan April 3 with three of their Afghan staff.
“They are in good health, in good condition. They are eating well and they are our guests,” Ahmadi said. “There has been no particular development of the case. There has been no major direct or indirect negotiations.”
A spokesman for the French foreign ministry said in Paris Monday he would not comment on the statement posted on the Taliban website (www.alemarah.8rf.com) a week ago.
French authorities “are continuing to make all the necessary efforts in liaison with the NGO Terre d’Enfance and the Afghan authorities,” the spokesman said in comments fowarded to AFP by the French embassy in Kabul.
The Afghan government was investigating, interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP also refusing to comment on the apparent deadline.
“Our relevant departments are working on the issue and they are trying their best,” he said.
In a videotape message broadcast a week ago, the hostages said they feared for their lives and urged the French government to give in to the kidnappers’ demands.
The Taliban made similar demands ahead of the release of the kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo. The reporter was freed in exchange for five Taliban prisoners in a deal which met with widespread outrage.
His driver and his interpreter were beheaded.
Senior French diplomat Philippe Faure met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul April 19 to urge for the utmost efforts to free the five; French President Jacques Chirac also called his Afghan counterpart about the matter.
Around 1,000 French troops are deployed in the Kabul region as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force helping the government to extend its authority across the country.