Sat, Sep 03, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Afghan officials hopeful about UK hostages

AFP , KABUL

Authorities sounded a hopeful note yesterday about the plight of a Briton kidnapped by suspected Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as officials said they may have found the bodies of two missing Japanese tourists.

The unidentified British man was abducted along with his Afghan interpreter after rebels ambushed their convoy in western Farah province late on Wednesday, raising security fears before key elections this month.

"There are some facts that make us optimistic," said Lutfullah Mashal, an Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman. However, Mashal said officials were not yet in talks with the kidnappers.

The Briton, who was working on the Farah road, was ambushed by rebels who set up a roadblock using two cars and opened fire from a third car, a security source said.

During the ensuing gunbattle, his Afghan bodyguard was killed and then the British man and another Afghan were forced to drive off with the kidnappers, the source said. A Gurkha travelling with them escaped.

NATO-led peacekeepers scrambled F-16 jets and set up roadblocks overnight to look for the missing Briton, but without success.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility and a spokesman said on Thursday they were holding the Briton, who they said was named David and that he was lightly wounded in the arm.

It said a Taliban shura (council) would decide the man's fate.

Farah Province has seen attacks on mine clearance workers as well as construction workers building a ring-road to link Afghanistan's major cities.

The attack was the latest in a wave of violence in the run up to Sept.18 parliamentary polls that has left more than 1,000 people dead.

The US envoy in Afghanistan, Ambassador Ronald Neumann, said on Thursday that some foreigners were taking security for granted in the insurgency-hit nation.

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