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Kidnappers holding 60 mine defusers in Afghanistan

By Masoud Popalzai and Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 8:18 AM EST, Tue January 21, 2014
[File photo] Afghanistan National Army (ANA) take part in a de-mining exercise at Camp Shaheen on June 12, 2013.
[File photo] Afghanistan National Army (ANA) take part in a de-mining exercise at Camp Shaheen on June 12, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The landmine crew of Afghan natives was on its way to clear areas of Herat province
  • The abductors took the workers, their vehicles and their equipment to a village
  • Then the workers were forced to go into the mountains
  • Eight of the abducted fled; tribal leaders are being called on to help release those still held

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The prospect of being blown up makes defusing landmines dangerous work, particularly in Afghanistan. But that is just one of many dangers that explosives workers face there.

On Tuesday, armed men abducted 68 mine defusers who were on their way to clear explosives in the western province of Herat, on Iran's border, a spokesman for the mine disposal organization that employs them said.

Eight of the abducted were able to flee, said Dr. Farid Homayoun of Britain's Halo Trust.

Afghan security forces have surrounded the area, and Halo Trust is trying to enlist the help of local tribal elders to secure the release of the remaining 60.

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The organization has 150 mine defusing teams and employs more than 3,000 Afghans, it says on its website. It also destroys other munitions.

Since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, multiple warring parties have laid landmines, bringing the total number of mines to as many as 640,000 Halo Trust reports.

The kidnappers first took the explosives workers -- all Afghan natives -- their vehicles and their equipment to a village. Then the abductors forced the captives to go into the mountains, Homayoun said.

No one, including the Taliban, has taken responsibility for the kidnapping, Homayoun said, and no ransom demands have been made.

Local police are also working to free them, said Herat province Police Chief Abdul Rauf Ahmadi said.

He said the mine clearers traveled to the area without informing area security officials, who could have guarded them in the remote, rugged and insecure region.

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