Two French aid workers kidnapped in Afghanistan

By Zhang Yunlong, Xinhua,

Kabul : Two humanitarian aid workers, both French nationals, with a Paris-based international relief organization, were abducted in central Afghanistan Friday, the aid group said in its website.

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In a website-posted statement, Action Against Hunger or Action Contre la Faim (ACF), said the two staff members were sleeping when they were abducted from a base in Nili, capital of Daikondi province, 310 km west of Kabul.

“According to ACF knowledge, the two expatriates are alive,” the statement said, without releasing the identities of the two abductees, who are among an over 250-strong team for providing relief to Afghans at risk of acute malnutrition.

There has been no responsibility claim yet but kidnappings, especially of foreigners, by anti-government elements or just criminal gangs, are common happenings in Afghanistan, which has increasingly been the scene of militancy and insecurity.

The Taliban, fighting Afghan government and foreign troops since being ousted from power in a 2001 U.S.-led invasion, has denied its involvement in the latest abduction.

“Taliban did not do the kidnapping and the kidnapping of French aid workers is not our work,” a Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told Xinhua Saturday through phone from an unknown location. “Maybe some kidnappers did it for money.”

ACF said it has halted its current Afghan relief operations and its primary concern now is securing the release of the two kidnapped staff members, and ensuring the ongoing safety of the rest of its team.

One Indian and one Nepalese working for a logistics service company were kidnapped by a criminal gang in Heart province of the west on April 21, and were released safe 27 days later.

An American female, and her Afghan driver, both workers for a relief organization Asian Rural Life Development Foundation (ARLDF) were kidnapped on Jan. 26 by gunmen in Kandahar of southern Afghanistan this January. One month later, ARLDF said both of them had been killed.

Moreover, 23 South Koreans were kidnapped last July by Taliban militants in central province of Ghazni and later were released after two of the abducted were killed.

There has been surging concern over safety for staff members of international organizations and foreign companies to travel out of the capital city Kabul over the years, especially since resurgence of Taliban-led insurgency in around 2006.

Going south or east from Kabul through its immediate neighboring provinces Wardak, Logar, or Kapisa by land for foreigners without military or police escort has been an acknowledged life-risking adventure.

The past two and half months saw a sharp increase of daily bombing attacks and shocking ambushes of militants across the country, despite a current presence of over 70,000-strong international troops in Afghan fighting against Taliban-led insurgents.

Concerned over the worsening insecurity in Afghanistan, western politicians and officials are thinking about additional reinforcement to the current U.S.-led military deployment in the central Asian nation.