Four remaining kidnapped Turks to be freed soon: Afghan Taliban

KABUL Mon May 13, 2013 5:36am EDT

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KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban will soon release the remaining four of eight Turkish civilians the group captured last month in a gesture of goodwill towards fellow Muslims, the militants said on Monday.

Turkey said on Sunday that four Turks had been freed and handed to Turkey's intelligence agency. The eight were taken captive by the Taliban in the eastern province of Logar when their helicopter was forced to make a "hard landing".

Two pilots from Russia and Kyrgyzstan were also aboard the Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter when poor weather forced it to land near the Pakistani border on April 21. It was not clear if the pilots were also being freed.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan anticipates that the Turkish government will reciprocally express its goodwill," the Taliban said in an English-language statement, using the formal the name the Islamists call themselves.

They said the release of the remaining four Turks "in the near future" would "result in bringing the Afghan and Turkish Muslim masses closer to each other".

NATO-member Turkey has long-standing, close ties with Afghanistan, having been one of the first countries almost a century ago to recognize Afghan independence from Britain in 1919 and shortly after to establish diplomatic relations.

Turkey has about 1,800 soldiers serving in Afghanistan, most of them based around the capital, Kabul, and it also trains Afghan security forces. The force has suffered relatively few casualties as it is a non-combat role.

While Taliban kidnappings do take place across Afghanistan, the seizing of such a large group of foreigners is rare.

Separately on Monday, a roadside bomb killed at least 10 Afghan civilians and wounded 12 in the southern province of Kandahar, police said.

(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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