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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Abducted Italian 'makes contact'
Clementina Cantoni
Ms Cantoni works for the Care International aid group
An Italian aid worker kidnapped in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday night has spoken to Afghan officials and is well, authorities say.

The kidnappers forced Clementina Cantoni from her car, police said.

Afghanistan's interior ministry said its officials had spoken with Ms Cantoni but insisted there would be no concessions to kidnappers.

A man claiming to hold her has made calls to a number of media organisations, making various demands.

Ms Cantoni, 32, works for the aid agency Care International.

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Afghan interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said on Wednesday: "We have spoken with Clementina Cantoni. Her health condition and safety is ensured.

"We are very optimistic that Ms Clementina will be peacefully released," he said.

"But there will be no concessions to kidnappers."

He denied earlier reports that the kidnappers were from a criminal gang. They were not from a political or militant group either, he said, but refused to identify the abductors.

Demands

A man who says he is holding Ms Cantoni has been using her mobile phone to make calls to media groups and issue various threats and demands.

Widows demanded Ms Cantoni's release
Afghan widows demand the release of Ms Cantoni

He said he would kill her if his demands were not met.

The demands included the banning of a youth TV programme, the establishment of more Islamic boarding schools and more compensation for opium farmers who had given up the crop.

Afghan police had earlier said Ms Cantoni was abducted by a gang seeking the release of a man believed to be their leader.

The police said the gang told them they were involved in the kidnapping in October of three United Nations workers. The three were freed unharmed a month later.

A number of people have been arrested in connection with Ms Cantoni's disappearance.

International peacekeepers set up checkpoints in Kabul soon after the kidnapping to help police catch the abductors.

Widows' protest

Ms Cantoni, a well-known figure in Kabul, was abducted on Monday evening after dropping off a colleague in a district in north Kabul.

The attackers stopped her car at gunpoint and then forced her into their white Toyota.

Ms Cantoni has been working in Afghanistan for three years.

She was running a project to provide food and income to thousands of destitute war widows.

"She's like my mother and my sister, because my children don't have fathers and Clementina gave food," one of the widows, Shirine, told the BBC.

The BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says the kidnapping could also be part of an effort to destabilise the country by militants and factions opposed to President Hamid Karzai, in advance of September's parliamentary elections

Afghanistan has not witnessed the level of abductions seen in Iraq, but fears have been growing that foreigners could be targeted by militants.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
People in Afghanistan appeal for care worker's release



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