Afghan negotiators hold talks to free foreign hostages

Updated 24 April 2013
0

Afghan negotiators hold talks to free foreign hostages

PULI ALAM, Afghanistan: Afghan village elders negotiated with the Taleban yesterday to try to win the release of a group of foreign hostages, officials said, but no progress was reported so far.
The insurgents 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.
The Taleban, who are fighting an 11-year insurgency against US-led NATO troops and the Afghan government, initially claimed the foreigners were linked to the US military.
“The Taleban have now realized that the hostages are civilians,” said Arsala Jamal, governor of Logar province where the helicopter came down. “But I cannot say there has been any progress so far in the talks to get the hostages released,” Jamal said, speaking of discussions between the elders and the militants.
Abdul Wali Wakil, head of the elected provincial council, said the hostages were fine apart from one Turk, who apparently suffers from heart problems and was sent medicine through the negotiators.
Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said earlier in the day the captives “have been moved to a safe area, they have no health problem and they are fine.”
Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, he said they were still in Afghanistan.
The Mi-8 helicopter, carrying Turkish road engineers and with a Russian and Kyrgyz crew, landed in Azra district, not far from the border with Pakistan where the Taleban have rear bases.
Asked what would happen to the group, Mujahid said: “The Taleban leadership will decide.” The seizure was the largest abduction of foreigners in almost six years, and highlighted Afghanistan’s continuing insecurity as NATO combat troops prepare to pull out next year.
In two deadly incidents Tuesday, police said four children aged under 10 died when a mine planted by the Taleban exploded while they were collecting firewood in Maruf district of the southern province of Kandahar.

And two foreign soldiers died after an insurgent attack in the east, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement, which did not give their nationalities.
An Afghan government official said on condition of anonymity that authorities want negotiations involving tribal elders to try to secure the hostages’ release, rather than a major military operation.
Raids to release hostages in Afghanistan have not always ended in success.
In October 2010 British aid worker Linda Norgrove was killed as US forces tried to rescue her from kidnappers in eastern Afghanistan.
The last time a major group of foreigners was abducted in the country was in July 2007, when the Taleban seized 23 South Korean church volunteers traveling through the south by coach.
The militants killed two men before releasing the rest, reportedly in return for ransom payments.
The Taleban were ousted from power in 2001 by a US-led invasion and have been battling Afghan and foreign troops ever since.
Attacks by them and other insurgents rose 47 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to January-March 2012, according to figures from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office.
Turkey, one of only two Muslim-majority members of NATO, has around 1,800 soldiers serving with the US-led ISAF. But they do not take part in combat operations.


Zimbabwe applies to rejoin Commonwealth

Updated 53 min 35 sec ago
0

Zimbabwe applies to rejoin Commonwealth

  • Zimbabwe has applied to rejoin the Commonwealth, marking a major step in its international re-engagement after Robert Mugabe was ousted last year.
  • Britain said last month that it would strongly support Zimbabwe returning to the Commonwealth.

Harare, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe has applied to rejoin the Commonwealth, the group said Monday, marking a major step in the country’s international re-engagement after Robert Mugabe was ousted last year.
Mugabe angrily pulled Zimbabwe out of the bloc of former British colonies in 2003 after its membership was suspended over violent and graft-ridden elections the previous year.
The Commonwealth said it had received a letter dated May 15 from Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa applying to re-join.
Member countries “very much look forward to Zimbabwe’s return when the conditions are right,” said Secretary-General Patricia Scotland in a statement from London.
“Zimbabwe’s eventual return to the Commonwealth, following a successful membership application, would be a momentous occasion.”
Scotland confirmed that the Commonwealth would send observers to elections due in July or August, the first polls since Mugabe was ousted in November after a brief military takeover.
Mugabe was replaced by his former deputy Mnangagwa, a veteran ruling ZANU-PF party loyalist who was backed by senior military officers.
Mnangagwa has vowed to hold fair and free elections, and has pledged to revive the moribund economy by repairing international ties and attracting foreign investment.
Scotland called for “a credible, peaceful and inclusive election that restores citizens’ confidence, trust and hope in the development and democratic trajectory of their country.”
Britain said last month that it would strongly support Zimbabwe returning to the Commonwealth.
Zimbabwe had fractured relations with the West under Mugabe, who had held power since independence from Britain in 1980.
The government in Harare was not immediately available to comment.
If readmitted, Zimbabwe will become the fifth country to re-join the voluntary association of mostly former territories of the British empire, after Gambia, South Africa, Pakistan and Fiji.
The Gambia re-joined the Commonwealth in February this year after the impoverished west African nation was in 2013 suddenly pulled out of the bloc by ex-president Yahya Jammeh.
The other countries to have quit the organization are Ireland, which left in 1949 and the Maldives which exited in 2016.
The Commonwealth brings together 53 countries representing 2.4 billion people, under a charter pledging commitment to democracy, human rights and rule of law.
The last country to join was Rwanda, in 2009.
The organization also holds an Olympics-style multi-sport event every four years, most recently in Australia’s Gold Coast in April.
Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth at the height of violent land seizures, when white farmers were evicted in favor of landless black people in a policy that wrecked the agriculture sector and triggered national economic collapse.