Mon, Nov 01, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Militants issue demands to UN

HOSTAGE DRAMA Three UN employees kidnapped by militants will die unless foreign troops and the UN leave Afghanistan within three days, group says


Militants holding three UN workers hostage set a three-day deadline yesterday for foreign troops and the UN to leave Afghanistan, saying they would kill the hostages otherwise.

The demands were read out to reporters shortly before the Arabic television channel Al-Jazeera broadcast a video showing the three UN employees, who were kidnapped at gunpoint on Thursday in Kabul.

The hostages' governments will "witness the death of their nationals in three days" unless four demands are met, said Mullah Mohammad Ishaq, spokesman for the breakaway Taliban group Jaishul Mus-limeen (Army of Muslims).

"We have four demands," Ishaq said by phone.

"First, we want the UN to leave Afghanistan and we want them to condemn the attacks and invasion of Afghanistan by foreign forces," he said.

"Second, we want all those Afghans who have been arrested in Afghanistan and held in foreign prisons to be released immediately.

"Number three, we want Britain and Kosovo to withdraw their forces immediately from Afghanistan or to witness the deaths of their nationals in three days.

"And fourth, we want the Philippines to condemn the invasion of foreign forces in Afghanistan and to announce it as illegal."

"We announce a three-day deadline," Ishaq said.

Al-Jazeera did not specify the date of receiving the tape, but the captors said they gave the tape to Al-Jazeera and to a reporter in Pakistan at around 9am.

"A couple of hours ago, we gave videotapes to Al-Jazeera and Rahimullah Yusufzai, which will prove that we have the hostages and they are alive up till now," he said, referring to a reporter based in northwest Pakistan.

British-Irish woman Annetta Flanigan, Kosovo woman Shqipe Hebibi and Filipino diplomat Angelito Nayan were snatched at gunpoint from their vehicle in Kabul last Thursday by armed men wearing military-style jackets.

All three had been contracted by the UN to oversee Afghanistan's first presidential election on Oct. 9.

Earlier yesterday the UN issued an emotional appeal for the release of the hostages.

"We miss them and we worry about them ...We call on those holding them not to harm them," UN spokesman Manoel de Almedia e Silva told a news briefing.

"The best response is immediate release," he said.

The Taliban regime was toppled by US-led attacks in late 2001.

A US-led international military coalition of 18,000 troops has been in Afghanistan for the past three years hunting Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

Some 16,000 US troops dominate the coalition, which also includes British forces. The Philippines and Kosovo, a province of Serbia, have no troops in Afghanistan.

Another 9,000 troops from some 30 countries including Britain make up a UN-mandated peacekeeping force based in Kabul and some northern provinces.

The force is currently led by NATO.

Several hundred Taliban fighters were arrested by US-led forces. They are held in US detention centers in Afghanistan and a US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The three-day deadline coincides with the US presidential elections.

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