- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan

A French aid worker tearfully thanked the Taliban for releasing her Saturday after more than three weeks in captivity and pleaded for the freedom of four colleagues still being held in southern Afghanistan.

Celine Cordelier was kidnapped in southwestern Nimroz province on April 3 with French co-worker Eric Damfreville and three Afghan colleagues who worked for the charity Terre d’Enfance.

“I want to ask them to have pity in the name of their God,” she said at the French Embassy in Kabul, her voice shaking and barely audible at times. “Eric came like me, to Afghanistan as a friend. Hashim, Rasul and Azrat are Afghans. They are Muslims. They are their brothers. They have children waiting for them.

Miss Cordelier also had kind words for her captors.

“I thank the Taliban for keeping their promise and giving me back my life. I will never forget that they gave me something to eat and drink and treated me with respect.”

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who said he was a Taliban spokesman, said Miss Cordelier was handed over to tribal leaders in the Maywand district of southern Kandahar province.

“Because she is a woman, to make good relations with the French government, we have handed this woman over to Maywand district tribal leaders,” Mr. Ahmadi told the Associated Press by telephone.

Miss Cordelier read a letter given to her by her captors, which said, “Now we want from French to leave our country, it is our right.”

French President Jacques Chirac said he was “delighted” by the release.

“Everyone must now redouble the efforts to obtain it for other hostages, with the greatest discretion,” his office said.

Mr. Ahmadi said the other four were still being held and repeated the Taliban’s demands for the withdrawal of French troops.

Without directly addressing the demand, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Friday that “France doesn’t have the aim of staying in Afghanistan.”

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