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Kabul Denies Deal to Exchange Body of Taleban Commander for Hostages

The spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai has denied the government has made a deal to exchange the body of a top Taleban commander for the release of five kidnapped health workers.

In an interview with Voice of America, presidential spokesman Karim Rahima says President Karzai ordered the return of Mullah Dadullah's body to his family on humanitarian grounds. The spokesman said there is not and will never be a deal on this issue.

Earlier Tuesday, other Afghan officials said the government had agreed to return the body in exchange for the hostages' freedom.

U.S.-led forces killed Mullah Dadullah in southern Afghanistan last month. Taleban militants abducted the five Afghan health workers in March.

Meanwhile, the brother of Mullah Dadullah has told the Arab satellite television network, al-Jazeera, that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden sent him a condolence letter after the Taleban commander was killed.

Mansoor Dadullah, who has taken over as military leader of the Taleban, says bin Laden is alive and healthy.

Also Tuesday, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon says his country has no plans to withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan, dismissing speculation that a pullout was under consideration.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition says it killed an estimated 24 Taleban militants during a firefight in Kandahar province on Monday. Coalition forces called in air strikes after Taleban fighters attacked them with rockets and gunfire.

In a separate incident, Afghan officials say more than 20 suspected Taleban drowned when their boat sank after coming under fire by U.S.-led coalition forces in Helmand province on Monday.