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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Italy-Afghanistan kidnap dispute
Clementina Cantoni
Clementina Cantoni works for Care International
The Afghan government has criticised the Italian embassy in Kabul for "meddling" in efforts to free an Italian aid worker kidnapped last week.

It has accused the Italians of trying to establish contact with the alleged kidnappers without informing the authorities in Kabul.

Clementina Cantoni was dragged from her car in Kabul by gunmen.

Ms Cantoni has worked in Afghanistan for three years on a project providing food and employment for Afghan widows.

The BBC has tried contacting Italian embassy officials in Kabul for a response but telephone calls have not been answered.

War of words

"The Italian embassy, without informing us, has set up some contacts with the alleged kidnappers.

Afghan widows demonstrating for the release of Clementina Cantoni at a Care International centre in Kabul,  Afghanistan
Widows on Ms Cantoni's project have called for her release

"We believe these kind of contacts are not helpful for the negotiations and the safe release of Clementina," interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told the AFP news agency.

"We were suggesting that the contacts should be made from one channel, from the Afghan side only," Mr Mashal said.

Correspondents say that a war of words between the two sides is developing, because the Italians earlier accused the Afghan government of "delaying" the release of 32-year-old Ms Cantoni, who works for the Care International aid agency.

Mr Mashal said that his ministry had formed a taskforce to collect and share all information with the international community.

The Italian embassy, without informing us, has set up some contacts with the alleged kidnappers
Afghan interior ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal

He said that it would comprise Nato-led peacekeepers, coalition forces, the Italian embassy, other Afghan security agencies, the United Nations and Care International.

Negotiations between Afghan authorities and the hostage-takers were "ongoing".

"There are some issues regarding these contacts that we cannot reveal right now. Some contacts have been made - the details of which could not be released at the moment," he told AFP.

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