Afghan commander says kidnapped two French nationals

KABUL (Reuters) – Two French aid workers kidnapped in central Afghanistan last week are being held by a commander of a former armed faction, a Western radio broadcaster said on Tuesday.

The pair were working for the humanitarian agency of Action Against Hunger in the central province of Dai Kundi and were kidnapped while sleeping in their house on Friday, the organization said.

Commander Sedaqat phoned Radio Liberty to claim responsibility for seizing and holding the two, said the U.S.-sponsored station which broadcasts in Afghanistan’s main languages, Pashtu and Dari.

Sedaqat said he had kidnapped them due to differences with provincial authorities he said had sidelined him from power, the network said. Sedaqat said he wanted to settle the issue peacefully, but made no demand for freeing the pair.

Sedaqat belonged to an ethnic Hazara armed faction and briefly joined the Taliban when the group was in power from 1996 till 2001, the radio said. He then sided with the Afghan government after U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban following the September 11 attacks in 2001.

As violence rises, kidnapping has become a lucrative business in Afghanistan and scores of Afghans and foreigners have been abducted by criminals or Taliban militants in recent years.

Two Turkish employees of a road project, seized last week in the western town of Islam Qala, bordering Iran, were freed on Sunday. The pair were released following possible ransom, according to the police chief for the western zone.

Ousted from power in 2001, Taliban insurgents have been behind a number of kidnappings in Afghanistan. Some hostages have been killed, but most have been released unharmed.

The insurgents kidnapped 23 South Koreans last year, killing two and releasing the rest more than a month later.

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