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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 September 2007, 22:47 GMT 23:47 UK
Italians 'seized in Afghanistan'
An Italian soldier with the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force stands guard during a patrol on the outskirts of Herat on 17 September 2007.
Western Afghanistan has been a relatively safe area
Italian authorities say they believe that two missing soldiers serving in western Afghanistan have been abducted.

"We believe they have been kidnapped together with two Afghans," the defence ministry said in a statement, adding that a search was under way.

Contact was lost after the men crossed a police checkpoint in Herat province.

An Afghan driver and interpreter were with the soldiers at the time but have since returned to Herat city and are to be questioned by police, reports say.

The four had driven through a police checkpoint in the Shindand district of Herat province on Saturday before all contact was lost, said Gen Ali Khan Hassanzada, chief of police criminal investigations in western Afghanistan.

The Italian defence ministry said the military personnel were "carrying out liaison activities with local civilian authorities".

There is some speculation that the Italians were intelligence officials but this has not been confirmed, the BBC's Charles Haviland reports from Kabul.

Increased insurgency

An Italian embassy official in Kabul said the two men last spoke with officials at their base late on Saturday during "routine contact".

Officials in Rome said the families of the men had been notified.

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Western Afghanistan is a relatively safe area, our correspondent says.

But Shindand district has become more volatile as it borders a province where the militant insurgency has been on the rise, he adds.

Earlier reports, later corrected, had said the two were journalists.

In March, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was criticised for making a deal with the Taleban to free kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo.

Italy has more than 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, many of them based in the west.





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