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Italian journalist 'fine', say Afghan kidnappers

KABUL (Reuters) - A group which said it kidnapped Italian photojournalist Gabriele Torsello in the Taliban's southern Afghan heartland called aid workers on Sunday to say he was "fine" and they would make their ransom demands soon.

Peacereporter (www.peacereporter.net), a Web site specialising in reports from conflict zones, said Torsello's kidnappers called a hospital run by Italian aid group Emergency in southern Helmand province, but did not identify themselves.

Local police say the resurgent Taliban is behind the kidnapping. But the Islamist group denies any involvement in the abduction, blaming criminals who are active across the largely lawless nation, especially in the south.

More than 2,500 people, mostly militants, have been killed in violence this year in Afghanistan, where the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force took over total command from U.S. forces this month in the alliance's biggest operation.

NATO's commander in the country said the international community must deliver quickly on its promises to provide reconstruction and development in Afghanistan or lose the support of the Afghan public.

British Lieutenant-General David Richards insisted, however, that his forces were still wanted on the ground.

"The issue is how long do we take to succeed, because constant, frustrated aspirations and failed delivery on promises will slowly turn the population against us," Richards told Britain's Sky News in an interview.

KIDNAP CONCERN

The United Nations said the kidnapping of Torsello, a Kashmir specialist, was a concern for the world community and Afghan authorities, coming just over a week after two German reporters were killed in the relatively safe north.

"We hope that the authorities will leave no stone unturned in trying to investigate this matter and ensure the safe return of this photojournalist," Aleem Siddique, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul.

"Coming so soon after the tragic incident involving the two German journalists ... this is a matter of great concern for all of the international community and also for the Afghan authorities here in Afghanistan."

Witnesses say Torsello was taken on Thursday by five gunmen from a public bus on his way from Lashkar Gah, capital of the opium centre of Helmand, to Kandahar city, capital of a neighbouring province and birthplace of the Taliban.

Local police say the London-based Muslim journalist was abducted by the Taliban, but that they will not talk with the group. Police and media reports say he was also initially arrested on his arrival in Lashkar Gah, but did not say why.

Fighting in Afghanistan is the worst since a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban's hardline Islamist government in 2001 after it refused to surrender Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

At least six people, including a member of a provincial assembly, were killed in separate attacks on Sunday.

Counter Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi warned the insurgency was partly funded by bumper opium crops and would never be quashed until the illegal drugs industry was broken.

"These drug smugglers take the protection of the Taliban until the border and they buy arms for them, they buy vehicles for them and they give cash ... to the Taliban," he told Reuters.

"But it's a very difficult situation we have. If you hit hard on the farmers, then the farmer will go to the side of the insurgency. If you leave it, then the insurgency benefits from this trade. It's a very difficult situation."

(Additional reporting by Kamal Sadat, Mirwais Afghan, Mohammad Reza, Rome newsroom and Deborah Haynes in London)

Date posted: October 16, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 8