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Taliban releases aid worker; she pleads for 4 colleagues

The French woman was in captivity for more than three weeks.

Published April 29, 2007


KABUL, Afghanistan - A French aid worker tearfully thanked the Taliban for releasing her Saturday after more than three weeks in captivity and pleaded for the freedom of four colleagues still held in southern Afghanistan.

The woman - so far identified only by her first name, Celine - was kidnapped in southwestern Nimroz province on April 3 with a French co-worker identified as Eric and three Afghan colleagues who worked for the charity Terre d'Enfance, or A World for Our Children.

"I thank the Taliban for keeping their promise and giving me back my life, " Celine said at the French embassy in Kabul. "I will never forget that they gave me something to eat and drink and treated me with respect."

Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said she was released because she is a woman and to improve relations with France. A letter given to Celine by her captors said, "Now we want from French to leave our country, it is our right."

Meanwhile, Afghan and coalition forces clashed with Taliban militants Saturday in the east and south, killing 21 insurgents, officials said.

In one of the incidents, police and militants fought in the Alishar district of Khost province, leaving 11 militants dead, said Wazir Padshah, a provincial police spokesman. He said NATO assisted with an airstrike. Three policemen were wounded.

Lt. Col. Angela Billings, spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, confirmed that NATO launched an airstrike early Saturday, causing some insurgent casualties. She said there were no NATO or civilian casualties.

In southern Helmand province, Afghan and coalition forces also killed 10 suspected Taliban militants in a clash and airstrike, the coalition said in a statement.

The violence comes as NATO-led forces push forward with their largest-ever operation in southern Afghanistan to root out militants in the opium-producing heartland of Helmand province.

Separately, a NATO service member was found dead in his barracks Friday, a coalition statement said. The statement, issued Saturday, did not give any further details and said the cause of death was under investigation.

In eastern Afghanistan, another NATO soldier died and one was injured from noncombat causes Saturday, a separate statement said. It did not give any further details.

[Last modified April 29, 2007, 01:13:10]

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