Jun 10, 2005

Italian aid worker freed after 24 days in captivity

Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni was set free by her kidnapper late Thursday night and handed over to Italian Embassy officials in Kabul.

Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali told a clutch of hard-nosed journalists at 10.10pm: "We are glad announcing that her release has finally been secured after long-drawn-out negotiations."

He thanked the Afghan people including religious scholars, widows and tribal elders for their support in realizing the objective. "Throughout the whole episode, we preferred peaceful means of resolving the crisis with a view to ensuring the hostage's safety."

Cantoni also spoke to her parents, friends and family members following her release, the minister said, assuring the government was determined to stone-wall such incidents in future.

"Clinging to our policy we have made no concessions at all, much less pay ransom, to criminals," Jalali asserted, reiterating all possible measures would be taken to block a repeat of such incidents.

Senior intelligence officer at Interior Ministry Jalili earlier confirmed the aid worker had been freed. "All I can tell you is that she has been released," he snapped without elaborating.

Sources disclosed former Kunar governor Malik Mohammad Zarin had played a crucial role in securing the release of the 32-year-old CARE International worker, who was snatched from her car in the heart of the Afghan capital city on May 16.

Approached for comments, Malik Zarin claimed after several rounds of parleys, kidnapper Taimoor's mother was freed around sundown ahead of Cantoni's freedom. "Taimoor had only one demand, which was met to pave the way for Cantoni being set at liberty," the then governor said, adding not even a single penny had been paid in ransom.

Sources familiar with the marathon, tenuous negotiations confided to Media the woman was in good health, "though she appeared a touch pale and enervated." They refused to be dragged into discussing the nuts and bolts of the talks, which remained shrouded in secrecy.

An Interior Ministry statement released hours before the anxiously-awaited development predicted the crisis would soon come to a peaceful end. "We are now 24 days into this crisis, and are hopeful it will end peacefully," Lutfullah Mashal observed.

He continued the government was in regular contact with the kidnapper and Cantoni's safe release remained its top priority all through the sordid saga.

She has been in Afghanistan over the last three years working for the rehabilitation of war victims including widows and children. It will be pertinent to recall that she had been abducted from Qila-i-Moosa district of Kabul.

The Italian embassy in Afghanistan and the Karzai government ran a hectic campaign, distributing posters and stickers bearing Cantoni's photographs with Afghan women and children.

Published in Pashto and Dari languages, the posters urged people to share information, if any, with the government about the Italian national. A day earlier, Kabul schoolgirls held out stickers seeking public help for Cantoni's release.

source: Pajhwak


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