Belfast Telegraph

Negotiators claim a deal to release hostage

By Daniel McGrory
11 November 2004

Negotiatators claim to have secured a deal to free Annetta Flanigan, the kidnapped United Nations official, and her two colleagues in Afghanistan.

Talks are continuing but intelligence agencies in Kabul have been told to expect "an imminent release."

At their home in Richhill, Co Armagh, Ms Flanigan's family have been told of the progress made in the past 24 hours but warned that any deal could still go wrong.

A UN source in Kabul said: "Hostage negotiations are anything but a precise science but we have been given strong indications the kidnappers are ready to release all three captives.

"They are being held quite a distance from Kabul so there are logistical questions about where the three will be freed. We have been given every assurance that the captors have no wish to harm them."

The deteriorating health of the three, in particular that of Ms Flanigan (38), has added to the urgency of negotiations.

Last night a spokesman for the kidnappers said the Kabul government had caved in to their demands to free prisoners held in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai's officials say they do not want to get dragged into a public slanging match over what has been agreed.

The kidnappers are understood to have dropped their demand for the release of Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. UN officials have pleaded for secrecy during the last round of talks between Afghan government mediators and the kidnappers, expected later today.

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