KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The Taliban released three Afghan aid workers Sunday who were kidnapped with two French colleagues nearly two months ago, a Taliban spokesman and relatives said.
The three aid workers from the France-based group Terre d'Enfance — Mohammad Hashim and brothers Ghulam Rasul and Ghulam Azrat — were abducted April 3 along with the two French nationals in the southwestern province of Nimroz.
The Taliban released the French woman, Celine Cordelier, on April 28, and the man, Eric Damfreville, on May 11.
"The three Afghans who were detained with the two French aid workers have been released today in Nimroz province at the request of tribal leaders," purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said Sunday.
A brother of Rasul and Azrat, Abdul Wahab, said relatives and neighbors had gathered to greet the three hostages when they returned home.
"They're fine. They're very happy. My brother Ghulam Rasul is holding his two sons, crying and kissing them. Ghulam Azrat is holding his two daughters, and crying happily, kissing them, as all the relatives watch," Wahab said by telephone from Nimroz.
"You know the Afghan tradition — we are going to buy sheep to slaughter them and to give to the poor" to celebrate their homecoming, Wahab said.
News of the three men's release was also met with joy and thanks in France.
"I learn with profound joy of the liberation of the three Afghan hostages working for the NGO Terre d'Enfance," a statement by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.
After the release of the two French aid workers "only the liberation of their Afghan companions could put an end to this painful episode," he said, adding .
French President Nicolas Sarkozy echoed the remarks and thanked those who helped secure the Afghans' release.
After taking the Terre d'Enfance group captive, the Taliban demanded the withdrawal of all remaining French troops from Afghanistan. France pulled 200 French special forces out of Afghanistan late last year and still has about 1,000 troops stationed in the country.
The French aid workers were kidnapped two weeks after Afghan authorities released five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian newspaper reporter who was abducted along with his two Afghan colleagues in southern Helmand province on March 5. The two Afghans were killed.