Taliban kidnap 2 foreign ICRC staff in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Sept 27 (Reuters) Taliban insurgents have kidnapped two foreign officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the Afghan province of Wardak, the provincial police chief said today.

''This much I know, that two Red Cross staff were kidnapped by the Taliban in the Salar district yesterday,'' Wardak police chief General Ewaz Muslimyar told Reuters. ''We had asked them if they wanted a police escort, but they refused.'' A spokeswoman for the ICRC in Kabul said four staff had travelled to Wardak, southwest of Kabul, yesterday, but had not returned. She declined to say if they had been kidnapped.

''The information I have is that four of our colleagues, two expatriates and two Afghan nationals, were coming back from Wardak to Kabul yesterday but they couldn't make it,'' said the spokeswoman, who declined to be named.

''We have lost contact with our staff since yesterday, there might have been complications on the way,'' she said.

In Geneva, spokesman Marcal Izard said that the humanitarian agency was ''very concerned'' and was trying to find out more.

Asked whether the ICRC suspected the four had been kidnapped, he told Reuters Television: ''We cannot confirm at the moment what has really happened. We have to find out more details before we can comment further on that''.

Taliban rebels kidnapped two German engineers in Wardak in July and killed one after he suffered a heart attack. The other German is still being held.

In August the ICRC helped facilitate talks between the Taliban and South Korean officials that led to the release of 19 Korean hostages after more than a month of captivity.

The Swiss-based neutral organisation deploys 60 expatriates and some 1,300 Afghan nationals in Afghanistan, one of its biggest operations worldwide.

Its officials visit several thousand detainees in Afghanistan each year to ensure that they are being treated humanely in accordance with international law.

Izard declined to say what type of ''humanitarian mission'' the missing officials had been on.

REUTERS SS KN1515

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