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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 13:46 GMT
Women offer to replace hostages
Annetta Flanigan (Photo: Olivier d 'Auzon)
Annetta Flanigan was seized in Kabul (Photo: Olivier d 'Auzon)
A group of women have offered to take the place of three UN workers, one from Northern Ireland, being held hostage in Afghanistan.

Annetta Flanigan from County Armagh, and her colleagues Filipino Angelito Nayan and Kosovan Shqipe Habibi, were seized in Kabul on 28 October.

The Army of Muslims, which claims to be holding the three, is demanding the release of 26 Taleban prisoners.

Twenty Afghan women, which reportedly include housewives and journalists, have said they are willing to give up their lives to help free them.

Magazine editor Gulalai Habib told the Reuters newsagency on Thursday she made the gesture after seeing a videotape of the frightened women hostages, broadcast on Arabic Al Jazeera TV.

"We don't want our country to become a frightened country and a country of rebels which has a bad name in history," she said.

"We hope that the hostage-takers behave like men and give us their address.

Three people believed to be the UN hostages
The three had been helping with October's presidential election
"We are ready to go to meet them to become their hostages."

Another of the women, Jamila Mujaheed - a former Kabul Television presenter who edits another magazine - said five women had initially offered to take the place of the hostages.

"But when other women heard about the group, others came and said 'we are with you'," she said.

"I think the pride we have in our history about our hospitality has been proven by these women today."

Ms Flanigan, from Richhill, had been helping to organise last month's presidential elections in the country.

She was seized from a car, along with her two colleagues, during the day on a street in Kabul.

Afghanistan's presidential spokesman said on Tuesday that both Ms Flanigan and Ms Habibi had been allowed to make telephone calls.

Neither the Foreign Office nor Ms Flanigan's family could confirm or deny this.

Fellow hostage Ms Habibi was reported as having told a friend that she was well and was not being mistreated.

The kidnappers, who are believed to be a breakaway faction of the Taleban, have issued a series of conditions for the hostages' freedom, including that foreign troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

A series of deadlines set by the kidnappers have already passed.




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