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Taliban spokesman denies kidnapping French journalists

A man who claimed to be Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has denied allegations that his movement was behind the abduction of two French journalists who went missing in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday.

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AFP - The Taliban militia Sunday denied kidnapping two French television journalists and three Afghan assistants who were snatched at gunpoint five days ago in Afghanistan.

"We are not involved," self-styled Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"We ask our fighters to inform us if they do anything but we have no information coming from this area," he said.
  

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There has been no claim of responsibility since gunmen snatched the group of five in the eastern province of Kapisa on Wednesday, but a French colleague of the journalists blamed the Taliban.

The five men disappeared while going to meet a contact 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the Afghan capital near French military bases.

Criminal groups and Taliban insurgents have kidnapped several dozen foreigners, many of them journalists, since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in Kabul, sparking the current insurgency.

Most foreign hostages in Afghanistan have been released unharmed and relatively quickly, but the situation can be more complicated if the kidnappers take them into the remote mountains on the border with Pakistan.

A senior executive at public broadcaster France Television is travelling to Kabul on Monday to lobby for the group's release.

"I am going to Kabul to take stock of the situation," said director of news Paul Nahon. "I am going to meet with different Afghan authorities."

A source involved in efforts to free the journalists said on Friday they were believed to be alive and in good health.

Far from being homogenous, the Afghan Taliban are a nebulous collection of largely autonomous local networks and remnants of the regime ousted from power by the 2001 US-led invasion.

The French were abducted in a volatile area where the Taliban and wanted warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami network have a presence.

French troops said Sunday they were stepping up a hunt for the five.

"All vehicles heading north towards Kabul are being searched 24 hours a day," a senior French military official in Kapisa told AFP.

In an interview published in France on Sunday, French Defence Minister Herve Morin said there had been "no claim and no demand" over the missing reporters.

"The less we talk about it, the better for the security (of the five). We have no direct contact allowing us to give you news of them," he said.

The latest media abduction in Afghanistan comes just weeks after two Afghans and an Iraqi journalist working for a British newspaper were kidnapped and then freed following a six-day ordeal in a remote region of Afghanistan.

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