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Four Turks to be freed soon: Afghan Taliban

By Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban will soon free the last four of eight Turkish civilians detained last month, the militants said on Monday, in what they called a gesture of goodwill toward fellow Muslims.

Turkey said on Sunday that four Turks had been released and handed to its intelligence agency. The eight were taken captive by the Taliban in the eastern province of Logar when their helicopter was forced to make a "hard landing".

Two pilots from Russia and Kyrgyzstan were also aboard the Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter when poor weather forced it to land near the Pakistani border on April 21. They are alive and currently "under investigation and interrogation", Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.

"Once that is complete, we will decide on their fate," Mujahid said of the Russian-Kyrgyz pair.

Sunday's release of four Turks was "a gesture of good faith, taking into account Turkey's good relationship with Afghanistan", he said, adding that the rest would be freed in the near future.

NATO-member Turkey has close, longstanding ties with Afghanistan, having been one of the first countries almost a century ago to recognize Afghan independence from Britain in 1919 and shortly afterwards to establish diplomatic relations.

Turkey has about 1,800 soldiers serving in Afghanistan, most of them based around the capital, Kabul, and it also trains Afghan security forces. The force has suffered relatively few casualties as it has a non-combat role.

While Taliban kidnappings do take place across Afghanistan, the seizing of such a large group of foreigners is rare.

Separately on Monday, a roadside bomb killed at least 10 Afghan civilians and wounded 12 in the southern province of Kandahar, police said.

(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alistair Lyon)

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