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Taleban Wants New Prisoner Release After Executing Afghan Journalist


A Taleban spokesman said Monday four Afghan medical personnel and their driver would be killed unless the government releases two Taleban commanders. The threat came a day after the Taleban beheaded an Afghan translator abducted last month along with an Italian reporter. The latest spate of abductions in Afghanistan have highlighted the lawlessness in the south of the country and kicked off a debate over the ethics of negotiating with kidnappers. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome.

The Taleban kidnapped an Afghan doctor, three nurses and their driver March 27 in Kandahar province, adjacent to Helmand. They were just the latest in a string of abductions in the southern portion of the country. The Taleban has said the group will be killed if the Afghan government does not release two Taleban commanders.

The aim of the Taleban is to obtain the release of their own fighters held prisoners by the government, in exchange for the freedom of the people they kidnap.

But the Afghan government has said that what happened to obtain the release recently of an Italian journalist would not happen again. Daniele Mastrogiacomo's release was secured thanks to a prisoner swap. After being held for two weeks, the journalist was freed March 19 in exchange for the release of five imprisoned Taleban militants.

The Taleban then requested that some of its members in prison be released in exchange for the freedom of Mastrogiacomo's interpreter, Ajmal Naqshbandi.

But when the government refused, the interpreter was killed. A spokesman for the Taleban commander holding the interpreter said he was beheaded on Sunday after the government refused to free several insurgent prisoners. Afghan government officials later confirmed the killing.

In Italy, the journalist, politicians and public opinion, which for days had been calling for the release of the interpreter, were shocked.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi condemned the killing, which he called "absurd." Press rights group Reporters Without Borders said it was "revolted by this cowardly murder."

U.N. spokesman for Afghanistan, Aleem Siddique, joined in the chorus of condemnation of the killing.

"We condemn this senseless murder unreservedly and urge the authorities to do everything in their power to bring those responsible to justice," he said.

"The perpetrators of this crime have shown absolute indifference to the value of human life and ignoring the calls of Ajmal Naqshbandi's family, his friends, his colleagues who all so desperately wanted to see his safe return," he added.

Afghan lawmakers and foreigners working in Afghanistan have criticized Mastrogiacomo's prisoner swap as an incentive for more militant kidnappings. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has defended the exchange, saying the case was threatening Prodi's government and the renewal of the Italian mission in Afghanistan.

The Taleban says the Afghan government is only prepared to do prisoner swaps for kidnapped foreigners. A Taleban spokesman said that the militants have also kidnapped two French workers from the aid group Terre d'Enfance and their three Afghan staff.