Sun, May 06, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Taliban extends deadline for hostage

ELECTIONS Citing the presidential elections in France, the Taliban kidnappers of a French humanitarian worker gave Paris a one-day extension to meet their demands

AFP , KABUL

The Taliban yesterday pushed back by another day a deadline for its demands to be met for the release of a French hostage and three Afghans captured a month ago, saying the ultimatum would now expire after the French elections.

The extremist group is demanding that French troops withdraws or Taliban prisoners be released in exchange for the hostages.

A spokesman for the extremist movement said it would now wait until after the results of today's French presidential election to decide the fate of the hostages.

The winning candidate is likely to be known by the time polls close at 6pm, 10:30am in Afghanistan.

"For the sake of the French nation who have asked for the Taliban's mercy we have extended the deadline for the French hostage and the Afghans until the end of the French elections," spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said by telephone.

Ahmadi gave no precise time.

Terre d'Enfance (A World For Our Children) aid worker Eric Damfreville and three Afghans with him were captured in southwestern Afghanistan on April 3.

A Frenchwoman who was abducted with them, Celine Cordelier, was released on April 28, when the Taliban extended by a week for its demands to be met saying it was aware the French were "busy" with the election.

If its demands were not met, a council of elders would decide on the fate of the four, Ahmadi said last week. Asked if they could be killed, Ahmadi said the group's policy was "clear."

The militants have executed several Turks and Indians, but they have claimed responsibility for only one killing of a western hostage, a British engineer in 2005.

Ahmadi said on Friday there had been no negotiations for the four men.

"The deadline is drawing closer every moment," he said. "The French government and the Afghan government not only have not accepted our demands, but they even have not tried to contact us."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday, however, that his government was doing what it could. "We are in close coordination with France, we are doing everything in that regard," he told reporters.

The French foreign ministry said in Paris on Friday "we consider that all useful and possible contacts must be made" in the case.

The Afghan government was heavily criticized last month when it freed five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian journalist captured by the militants.

It was a one-off deal that would never be repeated, the government said afterwards.

Less than a week after the Italian was freed, a medical team that included Afghan doctors and nurses was captured in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban has said it has demanded certain prisoners in exchange for the five.

Cordelier, the French woman released on Saturday last week, met the international media hours afterwards her freeing to deliver a Taliban message that France's 1,000 troops must leave Afghanistan.

"Eric came, like me, to Afghanistan as a friend," Cordelier added in an appeal to the extremists who had held her for 24 days.

"Hashim, Rasoul and Azrat are Afghans. They are Muslims, they are their brothers. They have children who are waiting for them," Cordelier said.

"I have told them before leaving that my freedom is nothing without theirs. Release them," she said.

The Taliban were in government from 1996 to 2001 and famously carried out brutal punishments, including stonings, for perceived infringements of the ultra-conservative Islamic code of behavior.

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