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Afghan Government says Italian Hostage Alive and Well

Afghan authorities say a kidnapped Italian aid worker is still alive and in good health, and that the government is in contact with her abductors to secure her release.

A government spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, declined to say how he knew that Clementina Cantoni is still alive, or reveal the identity of the kidnappers.

He spoke Sunday, two days after foreign media quoted one of the kidnappers as saying he killed Ms. Cantoni because the Afghan government did not meet his demands. The man later reversed himself and said the hostage is alive.

Afghan officials have said they believe a criminal gang kidnapped the CARE International worker last Monday in Kabul.

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials in Afghanistan say 12 suspected militants have been killed during a clash with U.S.-led forces near the border with Pakistan.

Officials say one U.S. soldier was slightly wounded in a gunfight that broke out late Saturday when insurgents opened fire on coalition forces in southeastern Paktika province. U.S. warplanes were called in to end the clash.

One U.S. soldier was killed and three others wounded earlier Saturday when a bomb exploded near a military patrol in Afghanistan's southern Zabul province.

After a winter lull, insurgent activity has surged in the southern part of the country in recent weeks.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.