Germany will not be blackmailed over Afghan troops, Merkel says

( Bloomberg ) - Germany will not be blackmailed into pulling its military forces out of Afghanistan, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, dismissing demands by Taliban insurgents who are reported to have taken German citizens hostage.

``We will not react to requests from the Taliban; we refuse to be blackmailed,'' Merkel, looking stony-faced, said late yesterday during an interview on national television channel ARD. ``I believe that's an important and utterly undisputed position that stretches far beyond party lines.''

Merkel was speaking two days after Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi was cited in reports as saying the Islamist group was holding two Germans who went missing July 18 in Wardag province, west of the capital Kabul, and that both would be killed unless Germany withdraws its military forces from Afghanistan.

One of the hostages died in captivity, probably of a heart attack, while the second is thought to still be alive, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters on July 21, rejecting reports that the Taliban had killed both captives.

The Foreign Ministry's crisis panel is working with Afghan authorities and ``doing everything possible'' to press for the release of the second hostage, Merkel said yesterday.

Merkel was unable to confirm reports that the dead German's body had been found bearing gunshot wounds, nor was she able to say whether the Taliban were responsible. She could add ``nothing reliable'' to a ``very contradictory'' flow of information regarding the hostages' fate, she said.

The two Germans taken captive were both engineers who worked for a company in Kabul, news magazine Der Spiegel reported two days ago. The dead man came from the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and suffered from diabetes, Spiegel said.

The German government, which has deployed more than 3,000 troops in Afghanistan to help combat the Taliban, said last month that its military and humanitarian involvement in the country was generating a higher threat from terrorism both in Afghanistan and at home. About 500 German civilian aid workers are also in Afghanistan.

Although Germany is now suffering a growing number of casualties in Afghanistan, the government will not scale back its contribution to help rebuild the war-torn country, Merkel said. Three German soldiers died in a suicide attack in northern Afghanistan on May 19.

``Nowadays, Germany's security is being championed outside our national borders,'' Merkel said. Asked whether it's becoming ``too risky'' for Germans to stay in Afghanistan, she said: ``I don't believe that's true.''

Instead, the chancellor called for an extension of the country's military engagement in Afghanistan. The German Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, must vote by Oct. 12 to renew troop deployments in Afghanistan, currently in the country under three separate mandates.

The bulk of the troops fall within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's International Security Assistance Force, while the deployment of six Tornado fighter jets also comes under NATO command. German KSK special forces are also in Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

``I'm convinced we need the three components,'' Merkel said.

Merkel said she didn't exclude the possibility of sending more troops to Afghanistan to assist efforts to train the country's police units. She will discuss the matter with Tom Koenigs, head of the United Nations' mission in Afghanistan, in Berlin tomorrow, she said.

The abduction is the second incident involving a German national in the last month, after an unnamed worker went missing on June 28. The man, also an engineer, was released unharmed on July 5 after his employers paid a ransom of about $40,000, Spiegel reported.

Asked whether Germany would be prepared to pay ransom to help free the hostages, Merkel said: ``We're doing everything that's in line with responsibility. Allowing ourselves to be blackmailed would be irresponsible.''

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