Source AP ©

Afghan authorities investigate Taliban claim that kidnapped French woman released

The Afghan government said it was investigating claims from the Taliban on Saturday that the militants have released a French aid worker, kidnapped early this month along with another French citizen and three Afghan colleagues.

Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the French woman was handed over to tribal leaders in the Maywand district of southern Kandahar province. His claim could not immediately be verified.

"Because she was a woman, to make good relations with the French government, we have handed this woman over to Maywand district tribal leaders," Ahmadi told The Associated Press by telephone.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said he was looking into the report.

"We're in contact with Kandahar officials, but she is not yet in the hands of the government," Bashary said.

Police have been dispatched to the area for further investigation, an official in Kandahar said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The French man and woman, who work with the aid group Terre d'Enfance in southwestern Nimroz province, were kidnapped along with three Afghan colleagues on April 3.

The French woman had been wearing a burqa, and the man had been dressed in a traditional Afghan shalwar kameez tunic and turban. Afghan officials said they did not tell their colleagues before leaving their office in Nimroz.

A video of the kidnapped French and Afghans surfaced 10 days after their capture, showing the two French people pleading for their lives.

Ahmadi said the French man and the three Afghans are still being held, and reiterated the Taliban's demands to the French government in exchange for their release.

"The French government has to stop giving military support to the Afghan government, and French forces should leave Afghanistan," he said. "When the French government withdraws its forces from our country, then we will negotiate the release of this French man and three Afghans as well."

The kidnapping came two weeks after Afghan authorities released five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian newspaper reporter, who was abducted along with his two Afghan colleagues in southern Helmand province on March 5. The two Afghans were killed.

The deal was heavily criticized by the United States and some European nations. Afghan lawmakers and foreigners working in the country said it gave the Taliban incentive to stage more kidnappings.

The Afghan government has said the prisoner swap was a one-time deal for the Italian journalist, and has ruled out any future exchanges.

France pulled 200 French special forces out of Afghanistan late last year, and still has about 1,000 troops stationed in the country.