Taliban release all mine-clearing experts but one (AFGHANISTAN)
Sixteen of the 17 mine-clearing experts - kidnapped by Taliban insurgents in the volatile Andar district of the Ghazni province at the weekend - have been freed, officials said on Thursday.
Seven of the eight last deminers, freed Thursday morning, reached their office in Ghazni City at 5.00am while their 17th colleague is expected to join them shortly. Hours earlier, the captors set free nine of the experts of two different mine-clearing agencies.
Abducted five days back were 13 experts of the Mine Detection Dog Centre (MDC) and four of the Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA) - with four vehicles and specialist mine-sniffing dogs.
Eng. Zia, head of the MDC office in Ghazni City, confirmed to Pajhwok Afghan News the arrival of all the abducted employees but one. He hoped the last deminer - probably on the way to the office - would be them within an hour or two.
One of the demining experts, Inayatullah said they were treated well in captivity and that he was glad to be released unhurt. However, he added, the kidnappers would shift them from one place to another for reasons not known to him.
By the same token, Eng. Dost Muhammad too was happy about being "let off without harm." He said the militants did not bother them during the five-day kidnap saga that hogged the headlines in the Afghan Press.
Although the workers' ordeal has come to an end, the guerrillas have not yet returned their four vehicles and mine-detecting equipment. Also, three trained dogs of MDC died due to hot weather conditions and lack of proper feed.
Aminullah Atif, Taliban spokesman in Ghazni, announced late Wednesday the release of nine experts. The remaining kidnappees would be freed later at night or Thursday morning, he added.
MDC chief Shahab Hakimi, hailing the release as a welcome move, said: "I'm so glad they have been freed." He thanked all those who made efforts at securing the release of the NGO staffers, who had no problem with anyone.
Hakimi was optimistic that all warring factions, aware of the importance of mine-clearing operations, would cooperate with them in protecting the Afghans from the threat the hidden weapons posed to their lives.
Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are conducting mine-clearing operations in Afghanistan, which remains one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world - an unenviable legacy of prolonged strife and the decade-long Soviet occupation.
Taliban have scorned the suggestion they had sought ransom from MDC, MCPA or families of the deminers. "We had certain doubts about them. However, our misgivings were cleared during interrogation of the kidnappees," Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said a day earlier.
Von: 28.06.2007, (c) 2007 Asia Pulse Pty Limited.