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Afghan intelligence chief, soldiers kidnapped

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Dozens of suspected members of the Taliban kidnapped an intelligence chief and two soldiers in a central Afghan province, a local government official said yesterday, and there were conflicting reports about their fate.

The three men were abducted Thursday near Chenartu, a town 220 miles southwest of Kabul in Uruzgan Province, said Fazel Rabi, a senior official in the provincial government. Authorities were negotiating their release, he said.

Hamidullah, who like many Afghans uses one name, was traveling home in his car when some 40 Taliban stopped him, Rabi said. The two soldiers were traveling in the opposite direction at the time when they, too, were apprehended.

Rabi said elders in the area assured officials Friday that Hamidullah was well and negotiations for his release were continuing. He did not elaborate.

"It's very sensitive," Rabi said. "The three people are together and they are alive."

But Mullah Hakim Latifi, who said he speaks for the Taliban, said Hamidullah and the soldiers had been killed. The Taliban, which was ousted by a US-led coalition in late 2001, would swap the three bodies for that of a Taliban held by Uruzgan officials, he said. "We're ready for an exchange."

Suspected Taliban have frequently targeted officials in a stubborn antigovernment insurgency in southern and eastern parts of the country.

A lone gunman killed the deputy intelligence chief of eastern Khost Province in February. Taliban militants are also blamed for a string of kidnappings, including the abduction last month of a Turkish engineer working on a US-financed road project in neighboring Zabul Province.

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