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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Afghan Militants Extend Talks on 3 UN Hostages

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan government ministries searching for three kidnapped UN workers have yet to receive a list of prisoners that Taliban-linked militants want released in return for the hostages' lives, officials said Monday.

Spokesmen for Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, said Sunday that they had handed a list of 26 prisoners, some possibly in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, to government negotiators.

But two government officials said Monday that they had no word on any contact with the kidnappers and had not received any such list.

"If they contact us directly, then we will consider it," one official said on condition of anonymity. "Unless we have direct correspondence, we can't act."

The officials did not rule out that a handful of ministers and top aides were negotiating in secret.

Annetta Flanigan of Northern Ireland, Angelito Nayan of the Philippines and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo were abducted 11 days ago when armed men halted their marked UN vehicle in downtown Kabul.

The kidnapping was the first of foreigners in the capital since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and has fanned fear that Afghan insurgents are copying their Iraqi counterparts.

Ishaq Manzoor, one of several men claiming to speak for the kidnappers, said that a list of the 26 was handed to Afghan officials during talks at a secret location Sunday afternoon.

A government delegation asked for two days to find out whether the prisoners were in Afghanistan or elsewhere, Manzoor said.

Kabul has secured the release of several foreign hostages kidnapped in the troubled south using tribal chiefs and former militant leaders for behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Last November, a Turkish engineer was freed after a month in captivity following the release of two Taliban prisoners. Kabul denied any link and insisted no ransom was paid.

Manzoor did not identify any of the prisoners the group wanted released, but it has said previously that some may be in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or in U.S. and Afghan jails in Afghanistan.

It has also demanded that the United Nations and British troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

It was unclear which of the demands could be eased and none of the militants' claims could be independently verified.

A spokesman for the U.S. military said it was ready to help the Afghan government and the United Nations in seeking the hostages' release but indicated it had not yet been asked to free anyone on the purported kidnappers' list.

"I'm just not going to speculate on whether [the Afghan government] will ask us or not," Major Scott Nelson said. "Everything related to this issue is very, very sensitive."

The militants have said that the three hostages are suffering from stress, cold and a diet of little more than cookies, but have offered no evidence of their condition.

UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said Sunday that the concern of relatives, friends and colleagues was increasing "every day, every hour and every minute that goes by."