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Last Updated: Friday, 10 June, 2005, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Freed Italian hostage back home
Clementina Cantoni with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at Rome's Ciampino airport.
Ms Cantoni ran a programme helping Afghan children and widows
Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni has arrived in Rome nearly a month after being taken hostage by gunmen in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

She appeared well as she emerged from the plane smiling to say: "Thank you, everyone. Everything's okay."

The 32-year-old aid worker was released in Kabul on Thursday - 24 days after being seized there.

Afghan officials said no concessions had been made to the kidnappers, who were described as "a criminal gang".

The abduction of Ms Cantoni increased fears over security in Kabul.

Ms Cantoni has been in Afghanistan since September 2003 working for the aid agency Care International.

She was in charge of a programme supporting more than 10,000 widows and their children.

Afghan schoolgirls distributing stickers

Widows helped by her project had staged repeated demonstrations in the capital calling for her release.

Ms Cantoni flew out of Kabul on an Italian jet at 1245 local time (0815 GMT), and arrived 1730 (1530 GMT) at Rome's Ciampino airport, accompanied by members of her family.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was among those welcoming Ms Cantoni at the Ciampino airport.

"I am very happy," Mr Berlusconi said. "We achieved what we wanted 100%."

Afghan officials had said a criminal gang was responsible rather than Islamic militants.

Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said Ms Cantoni's release was "a result of the hard work of the police and the nation".

"The policy of the Afghan government is not to deal with the hostage-takers. We did not pay any ransom," he said.


The Afghan government had criticised the Italian embassy in Kabul for trying to negotiate Ms Cantoni's release with her kidnappers.

Italian media said the mother of the purported gang leader had been released from prison in exchange for Ms Cantoni.

The Italian government has declined to comment, saying the Afghan government was in charge of the affair.

Afghan security forces on Friday continued their search for the kidnappers. Ms Cantoni was abducted by gunmen in Kabul on 16 May who forced her out of her car.

Watch Clementina Cantoni's emotional return home

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