Kidnapped Dutch aid worker released in Afghanistan

THE HAGUE (AFP) - A Dutch aid worker who was abducted by unknown gunmen in June in Afghanistan has been freed after being held for 81 days, the Dutch foreign ministry said late Thursday.

Anja de Beer was recovering in the Dutch embassy in Kabul and was “doing pretty well considering the circumstances,” the ministry said in a statement.

An experienced aid worker who spent more than 15 years working for UN agencies, de Beer had been posted in Kabul for several years and was working for the Swiss non-governmental organisation Helvetas when she was snatched on the streets in broad daylight.

The Dutch foreign ministry said she had managed to speak with her family already as well as with Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders who said he was “relieved” to hear about her release.

“I’m happy that 81 days of uncertainty have come to an end,” he said in the ministry’s statement.

De Beer herself told Dutch public broadcaster NOS late Thursday that she had been “treated well” by her abductors. “They gave me food and drink and I was not mistreated,” she said in a brief phone call with the channel.

She added that she had been kept in isolation by her captors and was only given a few hours’ notice of her impending release.

De Beer was abducted at gunpoint by four armed men on June 22 outside her office in the Afghan capital’s Taimani area, where other aid workers and journalists live and work.

She had previously worked with the Red Cross from 2000 to 2001 on projects to help widows and orphans in Afghanistan, the Dutch press agency ANP said.

Aid workers in Afghanistan have increasingly been casualties of a surge in militant violence in recent years.

In April, the bullet-riddled bodies of five Afghan workers for Save the Children were found after they were abducted by gunmen in the strife-torn southern province of Uruzgan.

And last month a female German aid worker was also captured in broad daylight in Kabul, highlighting the growing risk to humanitarian officials in the war-torn country.

De Beer said she intended to return to the Netherlands now that her ordeal was over.

Her family has asked the media to allow her to recover in peace.

So far no one has claimed to be behind the kidnapping.

“We still don’t know who abducted her and why,” a spokesman for Helvetas told the Dutch centre-left daily De Volkskrant.