Taliban free 150 Afghan labourers, seven rebels killed (Lead)

September 28th, 2008 - 12:17 am ICT by IANS  

TalibanKabul, Sep 27 (DPA) Seven Afghan militants were killed by coalition forces, while the Islamist extremist Taliban released over 150 construction workers they abducted a week ago in western Afghanistan, officials said Saturday.Five militants were killed in Qarabagh district of southern Ghazni province by Afghan and coalition forces when they were planting mines near two burnt trucks Friday night, said Ismail Jahangir, spokesman for the provincial governor.

“The militants wanted to plant mines near the burnt vehicles so that they could target Afghan forces when they come to tow them away,” Jahangir said.

Afghan and US-led forces engaged the militants after they were spotted by a coalition helicopter in the area, he said, adding that the trucks, which were carrying supplies for foreign forces, were burnt Friday by the militants.

Also Friday night, two other militants were killed and four wounded in a clash with Afghan police forces in Arghandab district of southern Zabul province, said Gulob Shah Alikhail, a senior official in the province.

Meanwhile, Taliban militants released the last group of more than 150 labourers kidnapped Sunday, said Abdul Raouf Ahmadi, spokesman for police forces.

“The militants had mistaken the workers for army soldiers,” he said. “But when the tribal elders and influential people in the region intervened and the Taliban also found out that they were ordinary workers, they were released.”

The militants who identified themselves as Taliban insurgents abducted 153 workers on their way to a construction site in Bala Bulok district of western Farah province Sunday.

Earlier, the provincial governor for Farah, Roh-ul-Amin said the abductors released 118 of the workers on Friday after tribal elders convinced them that they were innocent labourers. Three other workers were released earlier in the week due to illness.

Amin said the government refrained from using military means because it did not want to risk the lives of the abducted men.

The workers were hired by a US-funded Afghan firm building an army base in the region. The base, which will house up to 2,000 soldiers once completed, is one of several that the US military is building in the country.

Kidnapping for ransom or exchange for jailed comrades has become part of the rebel campaign to weaken the Western-backed Afghan government.

“No money was paid and no Taliban prisoners were released for the freedom of the 150 workers,” Ahmadi said.

In June 2007, Taliban militants abducted a group of 23 South Koreans from a bus on Kabul-Kandahar highway. The militants killed two hostages and released the rest after several weeks.

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