Sun, Sep 09, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Mine-clearing workers abducted in Afghanistan

AP , KABUL

Authorities hunted for 13 mine-clearing workers on Friday who were kidnapped in an insurgency-wracked Afghan province less than a week after Taliban militants vowed to step up an abduction campaign.

Also, several suspected insurgents were killed in restive Kandahar Province on Friday, bringing to more than 235 the number of Taliban killed in daily fighting in the region since Aug. 27, the US military said in a statement.

"The extremist Taliban are inexplicably attacking Afghan National Security Forces during this operation in spite of the large losses they are incurring," army spokesman Major Chris Belcher said.

The de-miners, all Afghans working for a UN-funded land mine-clearance agency, were kidnapped on Thursday by armed men in eastern Paktia Province on the border with Pakistan, provincial deputy police chief Ghulam Dastager said.

Taliban insurgents have carried out scores of kidnappings of foreign and local aid workers, journalists and government officials in recent years as part of efforts to destabilize the central government.

They have also abducted de-miners and occasionally killed them, but Dastager said it was too early to speculate on the identity or motives of the kidnappers, noting criminal gangs also frequently take hostages for ransom.

"We have nothing to do with politicians, the people of the area asked us to come," said Kefayatullah Eblagh, the head of Afghan Technical Consultants, the de-mining agency.

The Taliban last week released 19 South Koreans held for almost six weeks after Seoul reiterated its commitment to withdraw its 200 troops from the country by the end of the year and promised to prevent South Korean missionaries from traveling to the country.

The Taliban claimed the operation was a "success" and vowed more abductions in future.

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