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Afghan Taliban 'investigating' foreign captives

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Afghan Taliban said Wednesday they were investigating the backgrounds of a group of foreigners seized three days ago, but that the captives were being treated "humanely".

Village elders on Wednesday pressed on with talks with the insurgents to try to win the release of the group, officials said.

The Taliban seized eight Turks, a Russian, a Kyrgyz man and an Afghan after their civilian helicopter made a forced landing due to bad weather on Sunday in a rugged eastern district part-controlled by the militia.

Afghan authorities have so far ruled out any military operation to free them, and are putting their faith in negotiations by village elders.

The Taliban initially claimed the group was part of the US military, or linked to it. The Turks are civil engineers and the Russian and the Kyrgyz national made up the crew of the helicopter, according to the firm which operated it.

Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the militant group, said they were still gathering information on their captives.

"We cannot issue any verdict until our investigation of them is completed," he told AFP by phone from an undisclosed location. "What I can say is that they are in good health and are being treated humanely."

Hamidullah Hamid, governor of Azra district in Logar province near where the Mi-8 helicopter came down, said he had heard that talks between the captors and the local elders went well Wednesday.

"If it continues so, it will hopefully yield a positive result," he said. "We have also heard that the captives are all in good health."

Hamid told AFP the central government for the moment has no plan to intervene directly in negotiations or mount any military action.

The seizure was the largest abduction of foreigners since 23 South Korean church volunteers were abducted almost six years ago.

It highlighted Afghanistan's continuing insecurity as NATO combat troops prepare to pull out next year.

The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by a US-led invasion and have been battling Afghan and foreign troops ever since. The first quarter of this year has been especially violent.

Attacks by the Taliban and other insurgents rose 47 percent in January-March compared to the same period last year, according to figures from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.

The United Nations this week separately reported a rise of almost 30 percent in civilian casualties in the first quarter compared to the same period last year, with 475 civilians killed and 872 wounded.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130424/afghan-taliban-investigating-foreign-captives