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"New York Times" reporter and his fixer escape from Taliban kidnappers

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is very relieved to learn that David Rohde, a well-known American reporter, and his Afghan fixer, Tahir Ludin, managed to escape on 19 June 2009 from the Taliban kidnappers who had been holding them for the past seven months. The press freedom organisation urges the Taliban to free their driver, Asadullah Mangal, who is apparently still being held.

The organisation also reiterates its call to Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to stop abducting civilians, including media personnel. At least six journalists have been kidnapped in Afghanistan since September 2008.

According to reports published in the "New York Times", Rohde and Ludin escaped from the compound in which they were being held in North Waziristan, in Pakistan's Tribal Areas, and made their way to a nearby Pakistani military base. From there, they were flown to the US military base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

Rohde, Ludin and their driver had spent most of their captivity in Pakistan since their abduction on 10 November 2008 near Kabul. Their kidnappers had demanded a colossal ransom. Rohde's family said after his escape that no ransom was paid.

Reporters Without Borders did not issue a statement about their abduction at the request of Rohde's family and the "New York Times", but the organisation's representatives maintained contact with both Rohde's family and the families of the Afghan kidnap victims. "New York Times" executive editor Bill Keller thanked the media for respecting their request not to report the abduction.

"We do not know who kidnapped them or how they were kidnapped," a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Agence France-Presse. It is being reported that the Haqqanis, a Taliban family that is influential in the east of Afghanistan, was probably responsible.

"No matter how much the Taliban deny being responsible for this kidnapping, it is well known that Afghan and Pakistani groups abduct people for ransom, in order to raise funds," Reporters Without Borders said. "This is unacceptable and poses a grave danger to press freedom in the south and east of Afghanistan and west of Pakistan."

A Pulitzer prize winner, Rohde, 41, is well known and respected internationally for his coverage of human rights issues including the massacres of Bosnian Muslims and peace efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has also interviewed former Guantanamo detainees about conditions in the detention centre.

Ludin, 35, works regularly for foreign journalists as a fixer and interpreter. Mangal, 24, often works with Ludin as a driver.

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