Afghanistan

Afghans say hopeful kidnapped Italian free soon

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KABUL, June 9 (Reuters) - Afghan negotiators are in regular contact with the kidnappers of an Italian aid worker and authorities are hopeful she would soon be released, the Afghan government said on Thursday.

Clementina Cantoni, 32, was kidnapped by four gunmen on a Kabul street on May 16.

"We are now 24 days into this crisis, and we are hopeful that it will end peacefully soon," said Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal.

Officials have declined to reveal the demands of Cantoni's kidnappers or their identity except to say they are criminals, not Islamic militants.

The government has come out with a series of upbeat statements about prospects for her freedom but it has never elaborated on why it was optimistic and she has remained captive.

"Our negotiators are in regular contact with the kidnappers. We are heartened by reports that Clementina remains healthy," Mashal said in a statement.

Friends and colleagues of Cantoni, who works for the Care International aid agency, have been appealing for her freedom and her mother, Germana Cantoni has also issued pleas for her daughter's release.

Her kidnapping has raised fresh fears among Kabul's 2,000-strong foreign community of Iraq-style kidnappings by anti-government insurgents or criminals.

Cantoni has been living in Afghanistan for three years, most recently working on a project helping impoverished widows. Many of the women she helped have been rallying to demand her release.

Muslim clerics and scholars as well as politicians and celebrities from both countries have also called for her freedom.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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