KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban-linked (search) militants threatening to kill three U.N. hostages (search) gave the government until Monday night to reach a deal for their release, while Afghan officials said negotiations had been postponed amid disagreements over ransom demands.
Philippine diplomat Angelito Nayan, British-Irish citizen Annetta Flanigan, and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo were seized at gunpoint on Oct. 28 — the first abduction of foreigners in the capital since the fall of the Taliban three years ago.
The purported leader of Jaish-al Muslimeen (search), which is seeking the release of 26 militants in exchange for the trio, told The Associated Press that the new deadline for an agreement was 10 p.m. Monday.
"If anything happens to the hostages, the Afghan government will be directly responsible," Agha said in a telephone call from an undisclosed location. "Our deadline is 10 p.m. tonight."
However, an Afghan government official said the talks were suspended until after the Islamic Eid al-Fitr feast, which ends in Afghanistan on Monday.
"There has been no agreement and the main sticking point is money," the official said on condition of anonymity. He didn't say when the talks, which are being carried out through intermediaries, would resume.
Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, has claimed that the 26 men it wants freed are in U.S. custody, but the American military says it will release no one and has received no list issued by the militants.
Despite the claims of the militants, who have already set a string of deadlines, it remains unclear how much control they have over the hostages.
Afghan officials and diplomats suspect that criminal groups or warlord militias may be involved and say negotiations are being held with several groups. Officials suggest the three may still be in the Kabul area.
Agha insisted his group was not seeking a ransom.
"The Afghan authorities have come up with this allegation as a face-saving measure because it is proved to the world that they are powerless" to resolve the hostage crisis, he said.
The kidnappers released a video of the frightened-looking hostages three days after armed men forced them from their clearly marked U.N. vehicle on a street in the capital.
Last week, at least two of the hostages phoned home to say they were all right, but there has been no word on their condition since.