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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 12:50 GMT
Canadian reporter feared kidnapped
Foreign journalist in Taloqan
Journalists leave Taloqan after a Swedish cameraman is killed
There is growing concern for a Canadian journalist who is believed to be held hostage for ransom in Afghanistan.

Ken Hechtman, a freelance journalist who works for the Montreal Mirror, is thought to be in the town of Spin Boldak, near the border with Pakistan.

We don't know if anyone else has been taken prisoner from the press but obviously we're very alarmed and very concerned about this

Montreal Mirror associate editor Matthew Hays
Reports from Spin Boldak say that Mr Hechtman is being held by 11 armed men who are demanding money in return for his release.

News of the apparent kidnapping came a day after a Swedish television cameraman, Ulf Stroemberg, was shot dead in Taloqan, near the northern city of Kunduz, bringing the number of journalists killed in Afghanistan to eight.

Initial reports indicated that Mr Hechtman was being held by the Taleban, but the Montreal Mirror editor, Alastair Sutherland, later said the captors' identity was unclear.

"Someone received a note from him in prison. He's being held in chains," said the newspaper's associate editor, Matthew Hays.

"We don't know if anyone else has been taken prisoner from the press but obviously we're very alarmed and very concerned about this."

Witness report

News that Mr Hechtman might have been kidnapped first came on Tuesday evening, when two correspondents from the Guardian and USA Today were approached by an Afghan civilian in the Pakistani border town of Chaman.

We're looking for a contact in order to negotiate his release

Francois Bugingo
Journalists Without Borders

The witness, identified by the Guardian correspondent as Mohammed Zai, said he had seen a western man in hand and leg chains in a cell with no windows in Spin Boldak, which is still under Taleban control.

He then produced a card bearing Mr Hechtman's name and the telephone number for his newspaper in Montreal.

The manager of a hotel in Chaman said Mr Hechtman had been staying there, but left at the weekend saying that he intended to go to the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar.

Foreign journalists killed
Ulf Stroemberg, Swedish TV4 television
Johanne Sutton, Radio France International
Pierre Billaud, RTL
Volker Handloik, Stern magazine
Harry Burton, Reuters
Azizullah Haidari, Reuters
Maria Grazia Cutuli, Corriere della Sera
Julio Fuentes, El Mundo

He left most of his luggage in his room.

Mr Hays said Mr Hechtman, 33, had been in the region since early October.

His most recent report for the Mirror, from Peshawar, Pakistan, was published on 22 November.

He sent an earlier article, published on 15 November, from Taleban-held territory in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for Reporters Without Borders, Francois Bugingo, told Canada's RDI television news network that Mr Hechtman was "tied down to the ground and apparently he's been brutalised at least a couple of times."

"We're looking for a contact in order to negotiate his release," Mr Bugingo said.

See also:

21 Nov 01 | South Asia
Journalists' bodies taken to Pakistan
19 Nov 01 | South Asia
Journalists killed in Afghan ambush
12 Nov 01 | South Asia
Three journalists killed in Afghanistan
17 Nov 01 | South Asia
Close shave with the Taleban
12 Nov 01 | South Asia
The risks of war reporting
03 Nov 01 | South Asia
Taleban free French reporter
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