Taliban Release Canadian Journalist

A Canadian journalist held for four days by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan was freed Saturday and crossed into neighboring Pakistan after Canadian diplomats negotiated his release.

Ken Hechtman, who writes for the weekly Montreal Mirror, was detained by the Taliban on Tuesday after driving into southern Afghanistan without travel documents, Taliban official Mullah Aminullah said.

The Taliban held him in Spinboldak 10 miles across the border, and despite initial reports of torture and chains, Andre Lemay, a Canadian government spokesman in Ottawa, said Hechtman did not appear to have been mistreated.

"He does appear to be in good health, though that's something we will have to check out," he said.

Aminullah said officials had been considering prosecuting Hechtman on spying charges, but relented during a meeting Saturday with Pakistani officials and Canadian diplomats.

"We are releasing him on the recommendation of Pakistani authorities," he said.

Shafi Kakar, a Pakistani official who participated in the negotiations, said the Taliban had been suspicious because Hechtman arrived without travel documents — not even the Pakistani documents needed to visit the border area — and had a satellite telephone and maps of the area.

"The Taliban say, 'We would have allowed him in if he had approached us,"' Kakar said. "They say, 'Why did he come like a spy?"'

The Taliban have barred Western journalists from entering the parts of Afghanistan they control.

Taliban officials had earlier denied holding Hechtman, saying they briefly detained him Tuesday and released him. They said Hechtman must have been kidnapped.

Hechtman, 33, has been in Pakistan and Afghanistan since early October. His most recent report for the Mirror, from Peshawar, Pakistan, appeared in the Nov. 22 edition. A Nov. 15 article was from Taliban-held territory in Afghanistan.

Eight journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since Oct. 7, when the United States launched a military campaign to drive the Taliban from power for harboring Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.