Two French journalists and their local guides have gone missing in Afghanistan, the French government said Thursday in what one Afghan official called a kidnapping.
The journalists for France-3 television went missing Wednesday while traveling in Kapisa province, where French soldiers are fighting Taliban and other insurgents as part of a NATO mission to help bring more stability to Afghanistan.
Halim Ayar, a spokesman for the Kapisa governor in Afghanistan, said the journalists, their driver and a guard were kidnapped while going to Kapisa from the Surobi district of Kabul province.
French officials stopped short of such claims.
"We have no news from them, but we don't have any claim of responsibility either," French Defense Minister Herve Morin told France-Info radio from Afghanistan, where he was visiting French troops for the start of the new year.
Morin said France's only information so far was from indirect and unconfirmed witness accounts, and that "for the moment" it was not appropriate "to talk about a kidnapping."
"We'll know more in the hours or days ahead," Morin added. He said some colleagues of the missing journalists said they had left to go speak with villagers.
France-3 declined to identify the journalists. Lionel de Coninck, who heads the program the journalists worked for, said the two had been in Afghanistan for the last month and were set to return in the coming days.
The team was working on a report about the reconstruction of a road linking the towns of Surobi and Tagab east of the capital Kabul, de Coninck said.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday that "no hypothesis can be excluded" about the cause of the disappearance, and a spokesman declined to comment further.
Kidnappings of journalists have risen over the last three years in Afghanistan. Media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says nine were seized by insurgents or mafia groups in 2009 alone.
France has more than 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. In August 2008, 10 French soldiers were killed and 21 wounded in a Taliban ambush in the Uzbin Valley east of Kabul.