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Hunt Continues for Kidnapped UN Workers in Afghanistan

The fate of three U.N workers held hostage in Afghanistan remains unclear nearly two weeks after suspected Islamic militants abducted them. The kidnapping has raised fears in Afghanistan that anti-government militants have begun copying the tactics of insurgents in Iraq.

The three U.N hostages were in Afghanistan to help run the October 9th presidential election.

A previously little known Islamic organization, Jaish-e Muslimeen, or the Army of Muslims, says it holds the U.N workers. It has set and broken several deadlines for killing them.

An Afghan Interior Ministry delegation is said to have established contact with the kidnappers, who among other things are demanding the release of 26 prisoners, some of whom may be in U.S custody.

But the United Nations and the Afghan government are tight-lipped about efforts to free the hostages. All the information about the talks has come from men claiming to represent the kidnappers.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul Monday, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan, Major Scott Nelson, expressed hope the crisis would be resolved soon. Without elaborating further, Major Nelson said that United Nations and other international organizations are assisting the Afghan government to secure the release of U.N workers.

"This is certainly an international effort to assist in the safe release of the hostages. So I think there is some hope there," he said.

Little is known about Jaish-e Muslimeen. The group says it is a breakaway faction of Afghanistan's ousted Taleban regime. Several months ago, the group claimed responsibility for the murders of several Afghans who had registered to vote.

Some Afghan officials link the organization to the al-Qaida terror network.

Coalition spokesman Major Nelson also suggests the kidnappers appear to be outsiders.

"The actions taken by these hostages [takers] do not reflect the true nature of the Afghan people, who believe in treating their guests in their country with hospitality, courtesy and respect."

The kidnapping is the first of foreigners in Afghanistan since the Taleban fell in 2001. The militants released videotape of the captives on Sunday, raising fears that they are copying the tactics of Iraqi hostage-takers.

The family of the Filipino hostage, Angelito Nayan, appealed to the kidnappers Tuesday to free him while relatives of the woman, Shqibe Habibi, from Kosovo say she telephoned them on Monday to say that she was fine.