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Taliban 'Slim-Fast diet’ aids French hostage's escape

AFP

Pierre Borghi, who was kidnapped in Afghanistan in November last year and held captive for 131 days, escaped after losing 12 kilograms, allowing him to slip out of his chains and through a narrow window to freedom.

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A Frenchman held hostage for more than four months in Afghanistan by suspected members of the Taliban has told how his malnourished state eventually allowed him to make an unlikely escape.

Pierre Borghi, a 29-year-old aid worker and photographer, was bundled into a car by four men as he walked through an area of Kabul popular with expats on the night of November 27.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro published on Thursday, Borghi, from Grenoble in southeast France, described how he was taken first to a house, where he enjoyed relative comfort and even established a cordial relationship with his guards, with whom he practised his Dari – the local language – and played card games.

However, after several days in the house, he was blindfolded and taken to a nearby barn, where his kidnappers - who Borghi believes to have been members of the Taliban - forced him into a hole dug out of the earth and closed with a wooden trap door.

This small hole would become Borghi’s home for the next three months. The Frenchman was only allowed out to film occasional ransom videos with his kidnappers - not otherwise permitted to leave even to wash or go to the toilet, his ankles and wrists kept in chains.

Borghi survived on meager rations of a plate of rice and a piece of bread a day, losing 12kg of weight, and his physical condition grew worse as the winter arrived.

“The winter was long and cold, and I was hungry,” said Borghi. “At the end, I was in really bad shape.”

Lack of food “was my savior”

But Borghi’s malnourished state would turn out to work to his advantage, eventually allowing to him to make a break for freedom.

With his body weight reduced, Borghi found he was able to slip out of his now ill-fitting chains. On the night of April 7, prompted by warnings from his kidnappers that negotiations for his release had stalled and that he was soon to be executed, Borghi made his way out of the hole and left the barn by squeezing through a narrow window.

“The Taliban’s Slim-Fast diet was my saviour,” he said in his interview with Le Figaro. “Without it, I would not have been able to fit through the window.”

Despite the weakened state of his legs, which had been rendered immobile for several months, Borghi said he walked for “eight or nine hours” through the night, eventually arriving at an Afghan police base in the town of Maidan Shar, around 40 kilometres west of Kabul.

From there he was taken to the Afghan capital and eventually returned home to France on April 14, having spent a total of 131 days in captivity.

In an unlikely coincidence, Borghi found freedom on the same day as another French hostage being held in Afghanistan.

Charles Ballard, working in Kabul as the finance director for French charity ACTED, was kidnapped in broad daylight while being driven to work on January 27.

He was held hostage in a toilet for 71 days before being released, though he has declined to discuss details of how he came to be set free or who his captors may have been.

Speaking to the AFP news agency following his release, Ballard said he never knew Borghi, but that the two have since spoken on Facebook.

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