U.N. Calls for Release of Afghan Reporter Held by Taliban

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The United Nations mission in Afghanistan called on the Taliban on Monday to release an Afghan reporter kidnapped along with an Italian journalist captured earlier this month in the country’s south.

Ajmal Nashqbandi, a freelance reporter, was working as a translator for Daniel Mastrogiacomo of the Italian daily La Repubblica when they were kidnapped in Helmand province on March 5.

Mastrogiacomo was released in exchange for five Taliban prisoners on March 19. His driver, Sayed Agha, was beheaded by militants. Nashqbandi’s family and journalist associations have demanded that militants release him.

“We call upon those holding him to immediately release him and respond positively to the calls from his family, journalists, and many other Afghans who have called for his safe return,” said Aleem Siddique, a U.N. spokesman.

“Ajmal has no connection with either Afghan or international military forces,” he said.

Italy pressed Afghanistan to meet the kidnappers’ demands, leading to the release of the five prisoners, reportedly including two high-level Taliban ? a former spokesman and the brother of the militia’s top ground commander, Mullah Dadullah.

Afghan lawmakers, analysts and international workers have criticized the government’s decision to release the prisoners for the Italian journalist and also for not securing Nashqbandi’s release.

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