Taleban releases kidnapped Afghan female MP, militants say

KABUL (AFP) - The Taleban claimed on Saturday that an Afghan female MP held hostage by the militant group since August 10 has been freed in exchange for six prisoners who were relatives of their fighters.

Ms Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, one of the 69 female Afghan MPs in the 249-seat of the lower house of Afghanistan's Parliament, and her three children were taken at gunpoint last month by insurgents in the central province of Ghazni on the main highway from Kabul to Kandahar city.

The children were later released. Afghan local officials claimed they were freed as the result of a rescue operation, while some local elders said that ransom money had been paid.

On Saturday, Taleban insurgents claimed Kakar herself was released in exchange for four women and two children who were being held by the government because they were wives and children of Taleban fighters.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan handed over with dignity the female member of Parliament to her relatives in Ghazni province in the form of a prisoner exchange after four wronged women and their children were released by the Kabul government," the militant group said in a statement.

Afghan local officials in Ghazni province and in the capital Kabul could not immediately be contacted to confirm the news.

Ms Kakar, who was returning to Kabul after the Eid al-Fitr holidays when she was captured, was elected in 2005 as an independent member of the lower house after previously working as a teacher.

Kidnapping has been a growing problem in Afghanistan in recent years, with government officials, wealthy people or their relatives taken mostly by criminal groups who demand ransom or sell them to the insurgents.

At times the Taleban - who in recent months have stepped up a 12 year-long insurgency against President Hamid Karzai's government - are directly involved in the kidnappings.