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Indian duo kidnapped in Afghanistan

Kabul, Dec. 7 (Agencies): Two Indians, working on a US-funded project to reconstruct an Afghan highway, have been kidnapped by suspected Taliban guerrillas in the same area where a Turkish engineer was abducted in October, officials said today.

An official at the Indian embassy said the two Indians, both 24, were working with an Indian firm contracted to Louis Berger Group Inc., the US company leading the project.

She said one was a soil sampler and the other a foreman, but declined to give their names.

But AFP quoted a project manager who identified the missing men as Murli and Vardaya.

The men were abducted in Shah Joy district of Zabul province yesterday afternoon while they were out shopping, Zabul police chief Haji Mohammad Ayub said.

“They were picked up by suspected Taliban along with three Afghan colleagues who were released and informed the authorities about the kidnapping,” he said. “Efforts are underway to trace the Indians and their captors.”

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency said it had received a call from a man claiming to be a member of the Taliban, who said the Indians were kidnapped by the guerrillas on the border between Ghazni and Zabul provinces. AIP said he declined to answer questions on the incident.

News of the abduction comes a week after Turkish engineer Hassan Onal was released by Taliban kidnappers following a month’s captivity having been abducted on the same Kabul-Kandahar road.

Mullah Roazi, who the government described as the leader of the Taliban kidnapping gang, said Onal was freed after the government released two Taliban prisoners held in Ghazni.

But Kabul denied any deal was done.

Roazi also said the main reason Onal was freed was that he was a Muslim.

The Indian embassy official said: “We are in touch with the Afghan authorities and we are working very closely with them to secure their release.”

A source said their white Toyota pickup truck was stopped by three armed men, who dragged the Afghan driver out and beat him before getting into the vehicle with the Indians about 10 km north of Shah Joy.

The Indians were returning from Bazargan village, the Zabul police chief said. He said two Afghans from Bazargan working with the Indians had been arrested and were being questioned.

He said they had gone to the village without informing the authorities. “They were not supposed to go out of the specified security area without informing the guards and the road security team.”

India is in close touch with the Afghanistan authorities, external affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said in Abuja, the venue of the Commonwealth summit, today.

External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha “is in close touch with Delhi for update and is monitoring the situation”, the spokesperson said.

The kidnapping is another blow to the road project, the single largest reconstruction scheme in Afghanistan, which has been hit by a wave of deadly guerrilla attacks on workers and de-miners renovating the badly-damaged route.

Despite the violence, the US, leading an 11,500-strong foreign force hunting Taliban remnants and their al Qaida allies, has vowed to complete work on the 500-km road by the year-end.

Two Turkish engineers and an Afghan were kidnapped outside Kabul, an official said today, bringing the number of workers abducted to five in the last three days.

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