New efforts to free 150 Afghan hostages: official
The Afghan government called local powerbrokers Thursday to intervene in the hostage-taking of 150 labourers by suspected Taliban, an official said.
Tribal elders, members of village and town councils, and other influential men have been called to meet later in the day in the town of Farah near where the workers were abducted Sunday, the deputy provincial governor said.
"We are trying to talk to them to solve this issue so the government does not have to resort to military operations," Mohammad Younus Rasouli told AFP.
"Usually, in military operations, there is harm to both the abductees and to civilians."
Authorities believe the workers, employed by a private construction company to build barracks for the Afghan army, were being held by Taliban but this has not been confirmed by the rebel group, which is active in the area.
The group was seized as they travelled in three buses through Farah to Herat city for the upcoming Eid holidays.
Rasouli said the government had reports that the men had been divided into several groups and were being held in Bala Buluk district, a Taliban stronghold about 50 kilometres (30 miles) northeast of Farah town.
"We are trying to solve this issue via talks and negotiations. The Taliban had promised to free them all by noon two days ago but they did not keep their word," he said
"They are innocent civilians and we are trying to free them so they can spend Eid with their families."
Similar negotiations were under way in the far east of the country after four men were abducted from a mosque late Wednesday, police said.
"Last night, five people were abducted from a mosque in Gardez by Taliban," said Paktia province deputy police chief Ghulam Dastagir.
"We don't know why they were abducted, but we have reports that they were accused of working for the Afghan government."
One of the men had been freed and tribal elders were negotiating the release of the rest, he said.
The Taliban use abductions to intimidate ordinary Afghans into not supporting the Western-backed government, to raise money and secure the release of their men in jail.
But criminal gangs, sometimes linked to the extremists, are also involved in kidnappings.
In addition, Taliban militants attacked a police post in Pusht Rod district of Farah early Thursday morning, sparking a fierce exchange of fire that left five rebels dead.
"Five Taliban were killed and two policemen were wounded in the one-and-a-half-hour gun battle," Ikramudin Yawar, the police commander for western Afghanistan, told AFP.
The Taliban meanwhile claimed responsibility for new attacks on police on Wednesday and Thursday that killed two policemen and a civilian.
A remote-controlled bomb blew up a police vehicle near the southern border town of Spin Boldak late Wednesday, killing two border policemen, Kandahar province police chief Mutiullah Khan told AFP.
Another remote-controlled bomb blew up early Thursday in the nearby city of Kandahar, killing a civilian man who was crossing a road, a policeman at the scene said.
The Islamic fundamentalist Taliban group was in government in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when it was removed in a US-led invasion for sheltering the Al-Qaeda network.
Around 750 police officers have been killed in the first six months of this year, most of them in insurgency-linked attacks, and 1,250 wounded, officials said.