(Prague, Czech Republic/Kabul, Afghanistan--May 18, 2005) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kabul bureau early today (Wednesday) received a telephone call from a man claiming to represent a group that had kidnapped an international aid worker. The caller spelled out demands he said would have to be met to secure the release of Clementina Cantoni.
Cantoni, a 32-year-old Italian national working for the CARE International aid agency, was seized from her car in central Kabul on May 16. RFE/RL Kabul bureau chief Amin Mohammad Mudaqiq, who took the call, asked to speak to Cantoni but was told she is in another location.
RFE/RL contacted CARE and Afghan authorities, who said the same caller had spoken to them on Tuesday. Interior Ministry spokesman Lotfullah Mashal confirmed that the calls were made by a man identifying himself as Timor Shah, one of the armed participants in the kidnapping. Mashal said the calls to the interior ministry and to RFE/RL's Kabul bureau were made from Cantoni's mobile phone.
During the telephone call, Shah told RFE/RL about his group's three demands of the Afghan government, saying that "Our demands are legitimate and according to the Islamic Sharia." One of the demands Shah listed is to close a Wednesday night youth program of Radio Arman, a private Kabul radio station that is partly funded by USAID. Another demand is to ban the sale of alcohol in Afghanistan and increase government efforts to eradicate poppy crops. The third demand is to open more Islamic boarding schools, known as madrassahs: "They should consider madrassahs. We have these three demands. If they are met, we can release the lady safe and sound," he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office confirmed to RFE/RL that it is aware of the demands, but offered no immediate comment.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan is one of Afghanistan's most popular radio stations, with a nationwide weekly listenership rate of over 60 percent and a weekly listenership of 70 percent in Kabul (2004 survey of 5 provinces by InterMedia Survey Institute). Radio Free Afghanistan resumed its Dari- and Pashto-language broadcasts in January 2002, after a break of nearly ten years, and is available to listeners via shortwave, satellite and AM and FM signals as well as the Internet at the service's trilingual website www.azadiradio.org and at www.rferl.org.
An English--language news report with more details about the kidnapping of Clementina Cantoni and the information the kidnappers gave Radio Free Afghanistan can be found on RFE/RL's website, at http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/05/f93bfdca-1b7d-42c5-bbf7-9bc73b1f15b8.html