Kidnapping Crisis in Afghanistan Concern Grows over Fate of 'Seriously Ill' German Hostage

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reiterated Germany's commitment to Afghanistan, as concern grows about the fate of a German engineer being held by kidnappers in the country.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom Koenigs in Berlin Tuesday.
DPA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom Koenigs in Berlin Tuesday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated Germany's commitment to its deployment in Afghanistan Tuesday, as concern about the condition of a German hostage being held in Afghanistan continued to grow.

After a meeting with United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom Koenigs, Merkel said that Germany was on the right track with its Afghanistan strategy. "This is a long-term, but very important and indisputable engagement," she told reporters. And she said suggestions from the discussion with Koenig would be incorporated into the debate about renewing the German mandate in Afghanistan, which will begin in October. Germany's commitment in Afghanistan is controversial at home and politicians in the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party have called for a partial withdrawal.

Koenigs called for the continuation of a strong German presence in the country. He said it was essential that the rule of law be established, if necessary using military means, and the uprising in the south must be countered. He insisted that he was not interested in the debate about which country in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force was active in which part of Afghanistan, saying Germany should continue to keep its forces in the north. Germany has been criticized by other NATO allies such as Canada for restricting its deployment to the relatively safe north and avoiding the unstable south.

Hostage 'in Poor Health'

Concern grew Tuesday over the fate of the kidnapped German engineer being held in Afghanistan. The man, identified only as Rudolf B., has been in the hands of kidnappers for almost a week. The German government has set up a crisis team in Berlin while the German embassy in Kabul is working with security forces on the ground. There are reports that negotiations are being held with the kidnappers, with members of a local tribe in the Ghazni province acting as mediators.

The German public television station ARD reported Monday evening that the location of the kidnappers and the German hostage, who is being held with four Afghanis, is known. Tornado reconnaissance jets belonging to the German army and stationed in Afghanistan have reportedly helped to locate them.

Details of the kidnapping are extremely sketchy. Rudolf B., a construction engineer who is thought to be 62 years old, is said to be in poor health as a result of exhausting forced marches through the mountains with the kidnappers. He is reported to be suffering from diabetes and to not have medicine with him. German authorities managed to speak to the man on Sunday by telephone.

A second German engineer who was being held hostage, 43-year-old Rüdiger Diedrich, collapsed and died during a forced march last week. An examination of the body in Kabul on Sunday showed that Diedrich had been shot in the chest several times, although it is not clear whether Diedrich was still alive when he was shot. German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Martin Jäger said Tuesday in Berlin that Diedrich's body will be flown to Germany and a full post mortem will be carried out on Thursday.

The two Germans were kidnapped on July 18 in Wardak province to the southwest of the capital Kabul. They were traveling together with the businessman Eshak Noorzai, who belongs to one of the most powerful Afghani families. He has since been freed and was able to report details of Diedrich's death.

Fog of War

There has been some confusion about the identity of the kidnappers. The Taliban had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and demanded that Germany remove its forces from Afghanistan or the hostages would be killed. However the German government is assuming that the militant Islamist organization is trying to exploit the situation for its own purposes. A spokesperson claiming to represent the Taliban had announced over the weekend -- inaccurately -- that both of the Germans had been executed.

Jäger denounced the Taliban's statements on the case Tuesday, calling them "wicked propaganda." He said that Taliban statements were inaccurate and should be viewed with caution. They had "a great effect in Germany," however, he said, adding that the Taliban observe the German media very closely. Western broadcasters including the BBC and Germany's Deutsche Welle provide programming that can be heard in large parts of Afghanistan.

The two German hostages are reported to have lived in this house in Kabul.
DPA

The two German hostages are reported to have lived in this house in Kabul.

The German government believes Rudolf B. is being held by a local tribe in the region. It is believed that the German engineers fell into the hands of the kidnappers by accident when the tribe captured their real target Noorzai, brother of the speaker of the Afghan parliament. Ironically, the Germans may have decided to go to the dangerous region of Wardak precisely because they had the protection of the powerful Noorzai.

The Afghan ambassador in Germany, Maliha Zulfacar, said in an interview with the radio station Bayerischer Rundfunk on Monday evening that she was sure the life of the hostage Rudolf B. could be saved. The fact that he was in the hands of a local tribe, not the Taliban, was reassuring, she said. She said that negotiations had been taking place with influential tribal leaders and other powerful figures in the region in the last few days.

A Last Chance

Meanwhile on Monday more details emerged about the tragic circumstances which led to the death of the hostage Rüdiger Diedrich. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE, Diedrich had been tempted to go to Afghanistan by a lucrative job offer he found on the Internet.

He was hoping to pay off debts incurred when his construction firm in the town of Teterow in the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania collapsed after he suffered from a serious illness. Although he was afraid to go to the country, he apparently saw the position as his only chance. "He only went because of his debts," a friend in Teterow told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Besides, he didn't even know where Afghanistan was."

Although his first trip to the country was successful, he became increasingly worried about the security situation in Kabul, where he lived, as violence in the city increased. He told the German broadcaster ZDF in a June 2006 interview of his fears. "I feel very unsafe," he said. "Afghanistan is a powder keg." He only left his house when it was strictly necessary, he said.

However he apparently gradually got used to the violence, and colleagues said he did not show signs of fear. It was perhaps this relaxed attitude that led him to decide to travel to the dangerous Wardak province with Rudolf B.

Meanwhile several hundred people demonstrated on Tuesday in the Afghan city of Ghazni for the release of 23 South Korean hostages, most of them women, who are being held by the Taliban. Demonstrator told reporters that the Taliban's behavior was going against Islam and that they should feel ashamed for kidnapping women.

The Taliban are demanding the release of 23 of their fighters who are being held in Afghani prisons in return for the release of the Christian aid workers. They have given the government in Kabul a deadline of 16:30 CEST on Tuesday to meet their demands.

dgs/ap/reuters/dpa

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