updated 3/21/2007 8:58:32 PM ET 2007-03-22T00:58:32

Italy's deputy foreign affairs minister, Ugo Intini, confirmed Wednesday that the Afghan government released five Taliban prisoners to win the freedom of a reporter who had been kidnapped in lawless Helmand province.

Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who writes for Italy's La Repubblica newspaper, was freed Monday after two weeks in captivity. His Afghan driver, who was also seized, was beheaded, and the fate of his translator is not known.

Though the Afghan government called the swap "an exceptional case," the deal was sharply criticized.

"When we create situations where you can buy the freedom of Taliban fighters when you catch a journalist, in short term there will be no journalists anymore," the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, said during a visit to Kabul on Wednesday.

Joe Mellott, the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, said: "The U.S. does not make concessions to terrorist demands. End of story."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's spokesman has said the exchange came about after Karzai told authorities to find a solution to the kidnapping, citing Afghanistan's good relations with Italy.

"If things are done to save a human life ... this is a positive thing," Mastrogiacomo said Wednesday when asked about the controversy surrounding his release.

"I believe that what has been done doesn't violate the sovereignty of a state or the autonomy of its foreign policy decisions," he said, referring to both Italy and Afghanistan.

The reporter's kidnapping came only four months after another Italian journalist — freelance photographer Gabriele Torsello — was kidnapped and held for three weeks in the exact same region, Helmand province.

Torsello's kidnappers had asked for the withdrawal of Italy's 1,800 troops from Afghanistan and for the return of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who faced the death penalty in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity who was granted asylum in Italy.

Italy's ambassador said neither of those demands were met, but when asked in November if a ransom had been paid for Torsello, Sequi said only that he "did not think" one had been.

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