ANDHRA PRADESH

Kidnap drama: employers mighty relieved

HYDERABAD Dec.24. There were happy faces all around at the B. Seenaiah & Company (Projects) Limited office here on Wednesday as the news trickled in from Afghanistan that their two road construction workers kidnapped by suspected Taliban militia were released at Kabul at around noon.

The workers, Murali and Varadiah, hailing from Nellore district, were said to have been picked by the Ghazni Governor from the kidnappers and taken to Kabul and handed over to the Interior Minister. The Indian Ambassador, Vivek Katju, and the company officials later took the workers to the latter's guesthouse.

"We are very happy and relieved. We were always sure they would be released unharmed. We will bring them here on Sunday evening as the flight to India had already left by the time they were free and they would be taken to their respective villages on Monday. They are hale and hearty. The kidnappers are said to have treated them well," said an emotional B. Seenaiah, the Managing Director of the company who talked to the workers.

He said he had no information about any deal worked out by the Afghan Government. "We do not know if there was any understanding worked out by the Government there. We were expecting some demands but there were none," said B. Krishnaiah, his brother and former Congress MLA, who went to Afghanistan to take up the matter with the Ministers and officials there.

Murali and Varadaiah, aged about 25, and working as hot mix and roller operators, were taken away at gunpoint by the Taliban militiamen at Sherjeh village near Qalat town, a few kilometres from their base camp when they had drop an Afghan colleague and to make a telephone call home.

The kidnappers whisked away the two in the same pick-up van in which they were travelling after beating up the other Afghan employees with them.

B. Seenaiah & Company has been doing road construction works for more than 30 years and was the only Indian company among the five firms that were sub-contracted to build the road from Kabul to Kandahar by an American consortium Louis Berger. The project was for 85 km worth Rs. 200 crore that had US aid. It also got a contract for a road from Kandahar to Spin Bolduk worth Rs. 100 crores aided by the Asian Development Bank.

During their 18-day ordeal, the workers were said to have been hidden in some remote villages. "We were always confident that they would be released unharmed. We have informed the family members about the release," said Mr. Seenaiah, who found it difficult to control his emotions, when the mother of Varadiah contacted him on the phone on receipt of news.

The incident would have no impact on the ongoing works in Afghanistan, he said. "We have completed the first project before schedule. We have had no problems with the locals there. In fact, they like Indians and welcome us affectionately. Rather, they have a grouse against the Pakistanis," said Mr. Krishnaiah.

Mr. Seenaiah and Mr. Krishnaiah hailed the efforts put in by the Centre, State and the Afghanistan Governments to get the workers released and particularly, mentioned the role played by the Indian Ambassador Mr. Katju and the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu.

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