KABUL, Oct 15 (Reuters) - A group which said it
kidnapped Italian photojournalist Gabriele Torsello in the Taliban's southern
Afghan heartland called aid workers on Sunday to say he was "fine" and they
would make their ransom demands soon.
Peacereporter, a Web site specialising in reports from conflict zones, said
Torsello's kidnappers called a hospital run by Italian aid group Emergency in
southern Helmand province, but did not identify themselves.
Local police say the resurgent Taliban is behind the kidnapping. But the
Islamist group denies any involvement in the abduction, blaming criminals who
are active across the largely lawless nation, especially in the south.
More than 2,500 people, mostly militants, have been killed in violence this
year in Afghanistan, where the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force
took over total command from U.S. forces this month in the alliance's biggest
NATO's commander in the country said the international community must deliver
quickly on its promises to provide reconstruction and development in Afghanistan
or lose the support of the Afghan public.
British Lieutenant-General David Richards insisted, however, that his forces
were still wanted on the ground.
"The issue is how long do we take to succeed, because constant, frustrated
aspirations and failed delivery on promises will slowly turn the population
against us," Richards told Britain's Sky News in an interview.
The United Nations said the kidnapping of Torsello, a Kashmir specialist, was
a concern for the world community and Afghan authorities, coming just over a
week after two German reporters were killed in the relatively safe north.
"We hope that the authorities will leave no stone unturned in trying to
investigate this matter and ensure the safe return of this photojournalist,"
Aleem Siddique, spokesman for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, told reporters in
"Coming so soon after the tragic incident involving the two German
journalists ... this is a matter of great concern for all of the international
community and also for the Afghan authorities here in Afghanistan."
Witnesses say Torsello was taken on Thursday by five gunmen from a public bus
on his way from Lashkar Gah, capital of the opium centre of Helmand, to Kandahar
city, capital of a neighbouring province and birthplace of the Taliban.
Local police say the London-based Muslim journalist was abducted by the
Taliban, but that they will not talk with the group. Police and media reports
say he was also initially arrested on his arrival in Lashkar Gah, but did not
Fighting in Afghanistan is the worst since a U.S.-led invasion toppled the
Taliban's hardline Islamist government in 2001 after it refused to surrender
Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks in the United States.
At least six people, including a member of a provincial assembly, were killed
in separate attacks on Sunday.
Counter Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi warned the insurgency was partly
funded by bumper opium crops and would never be quashed until the illegal drugs
industry was broken.
"These drug smugglers take the protection of the Taliban until the border and
they buy arms for them, they buy vehicles for them and they give cash ... to the
Taliban," he told Reuters.
"But it's a very difficult situation we have. If you hit hard on the farmers,
then the farmer will go to the side of the insurgency. If you leave it, then the
insurgency benefits from this trade. It's a very difficult situation."