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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 12:41 GMT
Freed UN hostages tell of joy
Angelito Nayan, Shqipe Habibi and Annetta Flanigan
The hope of being reunited with families "kept us going"
Three UN workers released after being held hostage in Afghanistan have spoken of their joy at being freed.

Annetta Flanigan, of Northern Ireland, read out a statement from her, Angelito Nayan and Shqipe Habibi, giving thanks for all the support they received.

"It is a wonderful feeling that we have been sharing with our families, friends and colleagues in Kabul," she said.

Afghan officials insist no deal was done to free the hostages from nearly a month in captivity.

Ms Flanigan, Mr Nayan, from the Philippines, and Ms Habibi, from Kosovo, all of whom had been helping to organise the presidential election on 9 October, were seized at gunpoint from a Kabul street on 28 October.


In the statement read out by an emotional Ms Flanigan, the UN workers said: "Since we were released we have learned of the many statements of support and expressions of solidarity by Afghan personalities and ordinary men and women, some of whom even offered to take our place as hostages.

"We are humbled and very, very grateful for this."

Ms Flanigan said the "awful experience" of the abduction had not changed the workers' feeling for the country of Afghanistan and its people.

"Finally, we have a word to our families, friends and colleagues. The hope of getting back together with them kept us going. We thank them for their love, their prayers and their friendship," she said.

The statement shed no light on the circumstances of their abduction or release.

Arroyo vow

On Wednesday, the workers also met Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who said he was "very glad" that the three had been released safe and sound, adding that their capture had saddened the Afghan people.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai with the three freed UN workers
Afghanistan is happy... that this incident of hostage-taking of our guests who came to help the Afghan people is over in safety
Hamid Karzai

"I hope that a thing like this will never happen in Afghanistan again. This goes against the very nature of Afghan hospitality," Mr Karzai said.

Journalists attended the meeting but were not allowed to ask questions.

Mr Nayan did shout out that he was "fine" and "very happy to be here", before thanking "the Filipino people for their support and prayers".

Mr Nayan left Kabul in a UN plane on Wednesday, although his immediate destination was unclear.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo plans to greet him when he arrives home on Thursday, the AFP news agency quoted officials there as saying.

Mystery still surrounds the hostages' release on Tuesday.

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

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

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

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.

A Taleban splinter group calling itself the Army of Muslims said it had released the trio after the authorities freed 24 of its followers from jail, but the Afghan authorities deny releasing prisoners.

They suggest the kidnapping may have been carried out by a criminal gang.

The UN has also called for an investigation into the death in custody last week of a man suspected of involvement in the kidnapping.

See pictures of the freed hostages

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