KABUL, Afghanistan – Militants threatening to kill three U.N. hostages said Saturday that talks with Afghan and U.N. officials had been postponed for another day.
President-elect Hamid Karzai (search) renewed his condemnation of the abduction and received a promise from his visiting Pakistani counterpart of closer cooperation in combating terrorism.
Authorities have not confirmed any contact with Jaish-al Muslimeen (search), a Taliban splinter group demanding a U.N. pullout from Afghanistan and the release of Taliban prisoners.
Syed Khaled, a spokesman for the militants, initially said talks had begun Saturday at a secret location in southern Afghanistan. But he said later that an Afghan government delegation arrived too late.
"Our people thought the talks might continue late into the night, so the two sides agreed to hold them tomorrow," Khaled told The Associated Press by telephone. "We hope that the Afghan government delegation will be empowered to solve the issue quickly."
His claims could not be independently verified.
The abduction of Annetta Flanigan (search) of Northern Ireland, Angelito Nayan (search) of the Philippines, and Shqipe Hebibi (search) of Kosovo was the first of foreigners in Kabul since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.
The militants released a videotape of the hostages last Sunday, fueling concern that they are copying the tactics of their Iraqi counterparts. Still, Afghan officials suspect the little-known group had help from warlord militias or criminal gangs.
The kidnappers have repeatedly extended a deadline after which they say they will decide whether to kill the hostages. They also demand that British troops leave Afghanistan and that the United States release Muslim inmates from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The U.S. military has volunteered to help in any rescue and said it was receiving daily government briefings.
Spokesman Maj. Scott Nelson said he couldn't give details of efforts to free the three "because things are too sensitive now." But he praised Afghan officials for "doing a good job in trying to get a resolution."
"The health of the (election) workers is with the kidnappers," Nelson said. "They need to make sure they safeguard their health and the best way to do that is to return them safely to the United Nations."
President-elect Hamid Karzai and visiting Italian Deputy Prime Minster Gianfranco Fini on Saturday condemned the hostage-taking.
"We will do our best to solve this issue and to bring back the hostages to their families as soon as possible," Karzai said.
Karzai also received a visit Saturday from Pakistan's military president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who pledged a common fight against terrorist groups, including better intelligence-sharing.
Still, Musharraf didn't mention the hostage crisis directly. His relations with Karzai have been strained by suspicions that Taliban rebels find sanctuary in Pakistan.
"The success of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan is Pakistan's success, and our success in Pakistan will be Afghanistan's success," Musharraf said after talks in Karzai's presidential palace.
"I was telling my brother, there is no doubt in our minds that we both have to succeed," he said.