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Italian Hospital Group May Curtail Afghan Work Following Abduction

Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo (left) with the founder of Emergency, Gino Strada, shortly after his release on March 19 (epa) March 31, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An Italian NGO that runs hospitals in Afghanistan is threatening to curtail its work there following the abduction of one of its aid workers.

The nongovernmental organization Emergency claims that Rahmatullah Hanefi, the director of the group's hospital in the southern town of Lashkar-gah, was abducted on March 20 by Afghan secret services.

Hanefi, on behalf of the Italian government, had just helped negotiate the release of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, an Italian journalist abducted by the Taliban. As part of the deal, Mastrogiacomo was exchanged for five Taliban prisoners.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Gino Strada, the founder of Emergency, said the NGO is considering curtailing its work in Afghanistan unless Hanefi is released.

Emergency, which operates in war zones around world, runs three hospitals and nearly 30 clinics in Afghanistan.

"Rahmatullah is in Kabul at the moment, in the investigation jail," Strada said. "No one is allowed to see him, no one is allowed to interview him, despite the fact that Emergency has got a written protocol with the Ministry of Justice stating that all new prisoners admitted to prison should have an initial medical screening by our staff, because we have clinics inside the prison. Despite all this, we have not been able to see Rahmattullah so far."

Thousands of Italians are set to demonstrate today in Rome for the release of Hanefi and Adjmal Naqshbandi, who was Mastrogiacomo's interpreter and is still being held by the Taliban.

The Afghan Interior Ministry has yet to respond to RFE/RL inquiries.