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Taliban: Kidnapped Italian Journalist Released
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Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who was kidnapped by Taliban militants about two weeks ago, was released along with his interpreter in Helmand province of southern Afghanistan on Sunday morning, the Taliban said.

The freed Italian journalist had been handed over to local tribal elders, who are acting as mediators between the Italian government and the Taliban, a Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told reporters.

Ahamdi said that a Taliban leader, who were captured in 2005, had been freed by Afghan authorities in exchange for the Italian journalist.

The Taliban has been demanding the release of another detained Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif, Ahmadi said, adding that a tribal elders had promised they will persuade the government order to free Hanif.

Mastrogiacomo, working for an Italian newspaper La Repubblica, was kidnapped by the Taliban in Helmand on March 5 along with his driver and his interpreter.

The driver, who was accused of being a spy for foreign troops in this country, was reportedly killed by Taliban militants some days ago.

On Friday, the Taliban, who had accused Mastrogiacomo of being a spy, extended the deadline of executing him unless demands were met to Monday at the request of the Italian government.

About 2,000 Italian soldiers are being deployed in the country, operating as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, which many believe had put the journalist's fate on risk.

(Xinhua News Agency March 19, 2007)

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