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At Least 21 Hostages Freed After Mass Kidnapping By Afghan Taliban

Members of the Afghan security forces check a vehicle on a road near Greshk district of Helmand Province on June 21.

Afghan officials said on June 22 that the Taliban has freed 23 men who were kidnapped a day earlier by militants in southern Afghanistan.

Omar Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand's governor, said representatives of the governor’s office worked with tribal elders to intervene and "negotiated the issue with the Taliban, which resulted in them setting most hostages free.”

Zwak said 25 men initially had been taken captive, and that authorities hope that two remaining hostages would be set free soon.

Afghan military officials said the abductees were freed after military operation late on June 21 against a Taliban stronghold in the Marja district of Helmand Province.

But Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi on June 22 denied the claim and gave different numbers, saying a total of 21 hostages had been released after militants determined they did not work for Afghanistan’s Western-backed government.

The Taliban spokesman said a total of 27 men had been seized from three vehicles on a highway in Helmand's Washer district.

Ahmadi said six remaining hostages would face what the Taliban calls “Islamic justice.”

With reporting by AFP and dpa