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Taliban threaten to kill kidnapped Indian

Written by: Staff

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Apr 29 (Reuters) Taliban insurgents threatened today to kill a kidnapped Indian telecommunications worker unless Indians left Afghanistan.

The Indian and his Afghan driver were kidnapped after gunmen stopped their car on a road in the volatile southern province of Zabul yesterday.

''If India does not pull out all its nationals working in Afghanistan by 6 p.m. (1900 hrs) tomorrow, we're going to kill him,'' Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

In New Delhi, the Indian foreign ministry said it was sending a team of officials to Kabul to help secure the release of the man, whom it named as 41-year-old K. Suryanarayan. The team included members with hostage negotiation skills.

But it said India was committed to maintaining a presence in Afghanistan to help work on economic development. India has close relations with Afghanistan and is involved in numerous aid and reconstruction projects.

Violence and lawlessness across much of the Afghan south has crippled development, and the main task of thousands of NATO troops due soon to move into the region will be to ensure sufficient security for reconstruction.

Militants have kidnapped aid agency staff and foreign company workers, who the Taliban say are supporting the Western-backed government. Some have been released but several, including Turks and Indians, have been killed.

Police reinforcements had been sent to Zabul to help with the hunt for the Indian and his driver, said Gulab Shah Alikhail, spokesman for the governor of Zabul.

''By the grace of God, we'll find him soon safe and sound,'' Alikhail. He declined to comment on the Taliban demand and threat to kill the Indian, a contract worker for Afghan telecommunications company Roshan.

In India, Suryanarayan's family appealed for his release.

''We want our daddy back. He does not hurt anyone,'' six-year-old Satyateja told Reuters.

INDIAN PRESENCE Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said the Indian government was in touch with the Afghan authorities to establish whether the threat to kill Suryanarayan did indeed come from the people who kidnapped him.

''Our presence in that country is to promote the welfare of the people of Afghanistan,'' he said in a statement.

''We wish to assure the government and the people of Afghanistan that India stands by them and will continue to fulfil its solemn commitments to Afghanistan's development.'' Security is a major worry in Afghanistan with Taliban attacks mounting as NATO prepares to double its peacekeeping operations, and the United States hopes to cut its forces there by several thousand.

In separate incidents today, three policemen were killed in a Taliban attack in the southern province of Helmand, a provincial official said. Two Taliban were killed in the same province when government troops attacked a Taliban hideout earlier in the day.

Nine Taliban were killed and 12 captured in an operation by Afghan security forces in the neighbouring province of Kandahar, the provincial governor said.

US and Afghan opposition forces drove the Taliban from power in late 2001 after the Islamists refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks.

Reuters SRS GC0126

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