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US Diplomat: No Negotiations with Kidnappers in Afghanistan

A top U.S official has ruled out making deals with kidnappers of three U.N workers in Afghanistan, saying compromises with hostage-takers encourage such crimes. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made the comments during a trip to Kabul.

Suspected Islamic militants kidnapped the three U.N employees in Kabul two weeks ago and have threatened to kill them if their demands are not met. Among other things, the kidnappers are demanding the release of 26 prisoners, some of whom may be in U.S custody.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul Wednesday, U.S Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says Washington is not going to negotiate.

"I pray for the safety of those who are held hostage. But having said that it is the United States' view that negotiating with hostage-takers, compromising with hostage-takers, only encourages more," said Mr. Armitage.

A previously little known Islamic group, Jaish-e-Muslimeen, or the Army of Muslims, claims it holds the three hostages. The group identifies itself as a breakaway faction of Afghanistan's ousted Taleban Islamic government. It has set and extended several deadlines to kill the hostages, who come from Kosovo, the Philippines and Northern Ireland.

Afghan authorities are said to be talking to the militants to seek the release of the hostages but they are tight-lipped about these contacts.

Mr. Armitage declined to comment on efforts to end the crisis.

"As peoples' lives are at stake, I think I will refrain from answering those types of questions," he said. "These matters have to be handled very delicately."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said his government is working hard to free the U.N workers. The militants released videotape of the captives on Sunday, raising fears they are copying the tactics of insurgents in Iraq.

During his trip to Kabul, Deputy Secretary of State Armitage said the Bush administration will continue to fully support the reconstruction of Afghanistan and efforts to democratize the country.

"The only possible change that might occur in the next four years of George W. Bush is to accelerate even further our assistance and support for Afghanistan," he added.

Mr. Armitage praised last month's presidential election in Afghanistan as a near miracle. It was the country's first election in decades. He emphasized the need to accelerate the campaign to disarm factional militias across the country, saying it will ensure the success of next year's parliamentary elections.