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Afghan Officials Don't Think Militants Have UN Hostages --> 17 November 2004 -- Afghanistan's Interior Ministry says it believes three UN workers abducted nearly three weeks ago in Afghanistan are probably still being held in the area but not by the Taliban splinter group that claims to be seeking negotiations on their fates.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said they are probably being held by "armed robbers" and not by a Taliban splinter group. A group labeling itself Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) has sought the release of prisoners in exchange for the hostages.

Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi today told RFE/RL that he doesn't think Taliban members are involved in the kidnappings.

"Kidnapping or taking people hostage, I believe, is neither an action that could be effective against the enemy, nor there will be a reasonable response to the demands," Hakimi said. "There is also another problem. It is said that women are among the hostages. I believe kidnapping women does not conform to Islamic Shari'a law."

That group -- Jaish-e Muslimeen or Army of Muslims has demanded the release of Taliban prisoners in return for the hostages. The group, however, has gradually relaxed its demands and repeated deadlines have passed without apparent incident.