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Italy criticised for Taliban deal
US and Britain claim Italy's prisoner exchange deal put Nato troops at risk.
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2007 13:49 GMT
Italy swapped Mastrogiacomo, left, with
five leading Taliban fighters [Reuters]
The US and UK have criticised Italy for agreeing a hostage deal with the Taliban, saying the release of five fighters in exchange for an Italian journalist had put Nato troops in danger and encouraged further abductions.
 
Washington said the deal had caught it by surprise while London said it sent the "wrong signal to prospective hostage-takers".
Italy confirmed on Wednesday that five leading Taliban fighters were released in exchange for reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo who was held hostage for two weeks.
 
A spokesman for Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, said the government made the deal "in recognition of the friendship with Italy".
A senior US administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington would not have approved "concessions to terrorists" which increased the risk to Nato and Afghan troops, as well as the people.
 
No concession
 
"Although we are pleased with the release of the Italian journalist, Mr Mastrogiancomo, we do have some concerns about the circumstances surrounding his release.
 
"It is US policy to use every appropriate resource to gain the safe return of hostages, but to make no concessions to individuals or groups holding those hostages," the official said.
 
Italy, which has 1,900 troops under Nato command in Afghanistan, denied in a statement that it received a formal complaint from the US through diplomatic channels.
 
Italy said none of the reported concerns were raised during "positive" talks between Massimo D'Alema, Italy's foreign minister, and Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state in Washington on Monday.
 
The US official said the freed Taliban were believed to include Ustad Yaser, the head of the Taliban's cultural wing, and Mofti Latifollah Hakimi, a former spokesman.
 
Also freed were the brother of Mullah Dadullah, a Taliban commander, and two other commanders, Hambdullah and Abdol Ghaffar.
 
The Taliban beheaded Mastrogiacomo's driver while his translator's whereabouts are still unknown.
 
An opinion poll published by La Repubblica, which employs Mastrogiacomo, showed that 51 per cent of Italians surveyed supported the swap while 41 per cent were against it.
Source:
Agencies
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