KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan government ministries searching for three kidnapped U.N. workers have yet to receive a list of prisoners that Taliban-linked militants want released in return for the hostages' lives, officials said Monday.
Spokesmen for Jaish-al Muslimeen (search), or Army of Muslims, said Sunday that they had handed a list of 26 prisoners, some possibly in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay (search), to government negotiators.
But two government officials told The Associated Press on Monday that they had no word on any contact with the kidnappers and had not received any such list.
"If they contact us directly, then we will consider it," one official said on condition of anonymity. "Unless we have direct correspondence, we can't act."
The officials didn't rule out that a handful of ministers and top aides were negotiating in secret.
Annetta Flanigan of Northern Ireland, Angelito Nayan of the Philippines and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo were abducted 11 days ago when armed men halted their marked U.N. vehicle in downtown Kabul.
Foreigners have been kidnapped in Afghanistan's troubled south, but the abduction of the foreign aid workers was the first in the capital since the fall of the Taliban (search) in 2001 and it fanned fear that Afghan insurgents are copying their Iraqi counterparts.
Ishaq Manzoor, one of several men claiming to speak for the kidnappers, told the AP that a list of the 26 was handed to Afghan officials during talks at a secret location on Sunday afternoon.
A government delegation asked for two days to find out whether the prisoners were in Afghanistan or elsewhere, Manzoor said.
Kabul has secured the release of several foreign hostages kidnapped in the south using tribal chiefs and former militant leaders for behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Last November, a Turkish engineer was freed after a month in captivity following the release of two Taliban prisoners. Kabul denied any link and insisted no ransom was paid.
Manzoor didn't identify any of the prisoners the group wanted released, but it has said previously that some may be in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or in U.S. and Afghan jails in Afghanistan.
It also has demanded that the United Nations and British troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
It was unclear which of the demands could be eased and none of the militants' claims could be independently verified.
A spokesman for the U.S. military said it was ready to help the Afghan government and the United Nations in seeking the hostages' release but indicated it had not yet been asked to free anyone on the purported kidnappers' list.
"I'm just not going to speculate on whether they (the Afghan government) will ask us or not," Maj. Scott Nelson said. "Everything related to this issue is very, very sensitive."
The militants have said that the three hostages are suffering from stress, cold and a diet of little more than cookies, but have offered no evidence of their condition.
U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said Sunday that the concern of relatives, friends and colleagues was increasing "every day, every hour and every minute that goes by."
A wealthy businessman from Kosovo claiming to speak for a group of friends and relatives of Hebibi is also in Kabul with his own initiative to seek her freedom.
Behgjet Pacolli, who runs a company based in Switzerland, told the AP that he was seeking to contact the kidnappers via factional and religious leaders and already had "a very, very convincing indication" that she was alive.
He said he believed the three were being held separately in the Kabul area but would not elaborate. He insisted he was not offering money to secure Hebibi's release.