Italy confirms swapping Taliban for Mastrogiacomo

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Location of Helmand Province within Afghanistan where Daniele Mastrogiacomo was taken hostage.

Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo who was held hostage for 15 days, was traded for five Taliban prisoners, as confirmed by Italian and Afgani authorities.

This likely represents the first time during the Iraq War or War in Afghanistan that prisoners were openly exchanged for a hostage. An Afghani government source said the swap "was an exceptional measure taken because we value our relations and friendship with Italy."

Cquote1.svg Maybe the enemy will realize the great benefit they gained from this deal, and tomorrow even the reporters in Kabul won't be safe. This is not good. The government can't let the enemy use this strategy. Cquote2.svg

Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, political analyst

The move received sharp criticism from allies of Italy. In Washington, a senior State Department official said the United States was pleased the journalist had been released unharmed, but was troubled by possible ramifications of the swap. A spokesperson at the British Foreign Office said the deal sent "the wrong signal to prospective hostage-takers".

Maxime Verhagen, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands spoke against the swap, "When we create situations where you can buy the freedom of Taliban fighters when you catch a journalist, in the short term there will be no journalists anymore."

The international backlash is the latest headache for Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who has fought hard to keep troops in Afghanistan despite resistance from pacifists within his centre-left coalition.

Prodi briefly resigned last month after a defeat in the Senate over his foreign policy, including Afghanistan, and needs the Senate next week to approve a refinancing of the mission.

An opinion poll published by Mastrogiacomo's newspaper, La Repubblica, showed that 51 percent of Italians surveyed supported the exchange, while 41 percent opposed it.

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