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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 November, 2004, 10:52 GMT
UN hostages freed in Afghanistan
Three people believed to be the UN hostages
The three had been helping with October's presidential election
Three foreign UN workers who were taken hostage last month in Afghanistan have been freed unharmed.

The exact circumstances of their release remains unclear, though the Afghan interior minister denied any deal had been done with the kidnappers.

Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland, Kosovan Shqipe Habibi and Filipino diplomat Angelito Nayan were abducted at gunpoint from Kabul last month.

They had been helping to conduct the recent presidential election.

QUICK GUIDE

The three were released on Tuesday morning and taken by UN staff to a military base where they were identified and examined by medical staff.

The family of Ms Flanigan said they were "overjoyed" that she and her colleagues had been released.

"After all the terrible anxiety of the last 27 days it is an incredible relief to know that Annetta is safe and well and now reunited with her husband, Jose," they said.

I'm told they are in good spirits and they seem to be fine
UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva

A spokesman for President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines, quoted by AFP news agency, said: "We appreciate the efforts of the UN as well as of the Afghan government."

A UN spokesman in Afghanistan said: "We are very, very happy and relieved that they are back....they seem to be in good spirits."

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali refused to confirm whether they were rescued by troops or if the group holding them set them free voluntarily.

He said the three had been "abandoned in a location inside Kabul". He insisted there had been no payment to secure their release.

None of the hostage-takers conditions have been met
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali

"No prisoners were released, no money was paid, no demand was accepted," he said.

On Monday, two houses in Kabul were raided in an operation aimed at freeing the hostages. Ten people were detained.

American and Afghan soldiers used explosives to smash their way into the houses in the pre-dawn raid.

Mr Jalali said one suspected kidnapper was killed and four left wounded in operations on Monday.

All the hostage-takers "will be brought to justice", he promised.

Video

Earlier, a spokesman for the group that said it was holding the hostages - a splinter faction of the Taleban called the Army of Muslims - said it had released the trio after the authorities freed 24 of its followers from jail.

The three were kidnapped on 28 October when a group of armed men in camouflage stopped their vehicle, pulled them out and then drove them away at high speed.

The Army of Muslims produced a video showing the hostages slumped against a wall.

The group demanded the release of 26 prisoners in return for their lives.

But a government spokesman expressed doubt about their claims and said it was more likely they were being held by a criminal gang.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
What Afghan officials have told the BBC



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