Three UN workers kidnapped in Afghanistan were released unharmed yesterday after nearly four weeks in captivity, and officials insisted that no deal had been made to secure their freedom.
The release was a relief to foreign aid workers and UN staffers among Kabul's 2,000-strong expatriate community, under virtual lockdown since the kidnapping. Large tracts of the country are already off-limits to relief workers because of a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency.
"They are out," UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. "I'm told they are in good spirits and they seem to be fine."
Philippine diplomat Angelito Nayan, British-Irish citizen Annetta Flanigan and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo were seized at gunpoint from a UN vehicle on Oct. 28 in Kabul.
They were the first foreigners seized in the Afghan capital since the Taliban were driven from power three years ago, and their abductions raised fears that the Afghan capital could fall prey to the kind of deadly kidnappings by insurgents that have plagued Iraq.
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said the trio were "abandoned in one location inside Kabul" at around 6am yesterday.
Jalali said discussions had been held with the kidnappers, whom he declined to identify, but insisted no deal was done and that the releases were unconditional.
"None of the hostage-takers conditions have been met," he told a news conference. "All those people who had a hand in this -- directly or indirectly -- will be brought to justice."
Afghan officials have said they believe a criminal gang carried out the abductions, and that a ransom had been demanded.
Jalali also said it was "possible" that a Taliban-linked group which claimed responsibility had hired some criminals to abduct the three, who were in Afghanistan to organize Oct. 9 presidential elections.
The group, Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, had demanded that Afghan and US authorities free jailed comrades.
Syed Khalid, a spokesman for the militants, told The Associated Press on Tuesday it had freed the hostages against an "assurance that the release of our 24 people would begin today."
His claims could not be verified.
Silvestre Afable, a Philippine government spokesman, also insisted there was no prisoner-for-hostage exchange.
The foreigners were freed a day after US forces raided two houses in downtown Kabul on Monday and detained 10 people in connection with the abductions.
Most of the detainees were released after being questioned, an Afghan intelligence official said, and it was not clear if the arrest of a doctor who worked at a UN clinic in the city had hastened the hostages' release.
Jalali also said one person was killed and four wounded in another police operation linked to the kidnapping north of Kabul on Monday.