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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December, 2003, 10:13 GMT
Afghan kidnappers release Indians
President Karzai reopens the Kabul-Kandahar highway
President Karzai reopened the Kabul-Kandahar highway last week
Two Indian workers kidnapped this month in Afghanistan have been released.

The men, employed to re-lay the highway linking Kabul to Kandahar, were abducted on 6 December in Zabul province in the south-east.

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said the kidnappers were not linked to the Taleban leadership as had been reported earlier.

Mr Jalali said no ransom had been paid and that the men were treated well and were in good health.

"We're delighted the boys are back with us," said Indian ambassador Vivek Katju.

The two semi-skilled workers, 24-year-old Murali and Vardaiah, 22, are from Nellore district in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

The people who kidnapped them had no relations with the leaders of the Taleban
Ali Ahmad Jalali
The highway on which the men were working - formally opened last week by Afghan President Hamid Karzai - has been the target of several recent attacks.

Mr Jalali said the men were released late on Tuesday.

"The people who abducted them agreed to free them without conditions," he said.

Mr Jalali said negotiations had taken place through local tribal leaders and elders.

Spokesmen for the Taleban had earlier claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, demanding the release of 50 Taleban members in Afghan jails.

But Mr Jalali said there was "no connection between [the Taleban] and those who kept them in the area".

The governor of Ghazni province, Asadullah Khan, who helped negotiate the release, said the kidnappers were former Taleban members Ahmadullah Aakhandzada and Abdul Hakim.

Ghazni incident

The Indians are employed by Indian company Seenaiah, contracted by the American firm Louis Berger Group, which led the reconstruction of the highway.

The men were part of the 140-strong contingent of workers Seenaiah had sent to Afghanistan.

They were lured by wages of 10,000 rupees ($220) a month, almost double the salary in India.

Earlier this month, a Pakistani engineer was killed and an Afghan worker wounded in an incident on the troubled highway in the province of Ghazni.

Five armed men were arrested in connection with the attack.

In late October a Turkish engineer working along the same Kabul-Kandahar road was kidnapped by the Taleban.

He was later freed.

The release of the Indians comes as the traditional loya jirga, or grand council, of tribal, ethnic and provincial representatives is meeting in Kabul to debate and ratify the country's new constitution.

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