Sat, Nov 06, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Militants mull hostages' fate

DECISION The Taliban splinter group holding the UN employees says talks with Afghan officials have broken down and it has decided not to negotiate further


Militants claiming to hold three UN hostages said they would decide yesterday whether to kill them, after declaring that talks on their demands, including the release of Taliban prisoners, had broken down.

Two senior Afghan officials said on condition of anonymity yesterday that security forces were still searching for the hostages, but they had no information about any contact with the kidnappers.

The Jaish-al Muslimeen, a shadowy Taliban splinter group, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Irish-British hostage Annetta Flanigan was "seriously ill" because of the strain of her captivity, and all three were sickened by a diet of little more than cookies.

A purported commander for the group said UN and Afghan officials contacted them by telephone Thursday but were "not ready for negotiations."

"We have decided that we won't negotiate any more, either, because they are not making a serious effort to get the hostages released," a man identifying himself as Sadir Momin said in a satellite telephone call.

The group planned to hold a council yesterday. "Then we will decide whether to kill them or allow more time," he said.

The man was among three purported representatives of the militant group who spoke to reporters. The representatives' claims could not be verified independently.

Armed men abducted Flanigan, Filipino Angelito Nayan and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo a week ago in the Afghan capital.

The group's leader, Akbar Agha, said that Flanigan was ailing.

"My friends have told me she is very frightened. She can't speak smoothly," he said. "The Afghan government will be responsible if anything happens to her."

The abductions were the first kidnappings of foreigners in Kabul since the Taliban was ousted in 2001 and sparked concern militants were copying the tactics of their Iraqi counterparts.

The group released a videotape of the hostages Sunday to back its claim of responsibility and has demanded the withdrawals of British troops and the United Nations from Afghanistan in return for the hostages' lives.

Still, Afghan officials doubt the little-known group could have pulled off the kidnappings without the help of a local militia or criminal gang, and authorities have conducted a number of searches.

On Thursday, the group claimed it gave authorities a list of 25 Taliban prisoners, some held at a U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and others in Afghan jails.

UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva thanked the Afghan government Thursday for its efforts to free the hostages. He said the world body was "doing all it can" in support.

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