ROME (AFP) - October 19, 2006. An Italian photographer abducted in Afghanistan contacted a local hospital, saying he was "worried" at a weekend deadline set by his kidnappers for Italy to pull troops from the country.
The abducted man, Gabriele Torsello, "spoke directly" with Rahmatullah Hanefi, an official at the hospital in Lashkar Gah, capital of the volatile southern province of Helmand, a report on the news website PeaceReporter said.
"He said that he was well, but that he was `worried`, confirming the ultimatum fixed for Sunday evening" by his kidnappers, the site said.
The abductors have already threatened to kill the 36-year-old unless certain other demands are met.
Torsello contacted the hospital -- run by the Italian non-governmental organization Emergency -- at 1630 GMT, according to the site, which has links to the group running the hospital.
The Italian government has said it will not meet the kidnappers` demands. Earlier on Thursday, Defense Minister Arturo Parisi was quoted as categorically ruling out a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"Pull out? We`re not even talking about it," Parisi told the daily La Stampa. "We are in Afghanistan and we will stay there.
It is the Afghans who ask us to," said Parisi, currently on a visit to Egypt.
The kidnappers on Wednesday called for the withdrawal of "all Italian soldiers" from Afghanistan in their latest demand that appeared on PeaceReporter.
On Tuesday they had threatened to kill the photojournalist unless another man, an Afghan convert to Christianity who has taken refuge in Italy, was returned to Kabul.
Italy granted political asylum earlier this year to Abdul Rahman, 41, who had faced a possible death penalty under Islamic Sharia law in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity.
PeaceReporter said the deadline of the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan -- Sunday evening -- holds for the new demand.
Italy has some 1,800 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, which entered the central Asian country after the ousting in late 2001 of the extremist Islamic Taliban regime.
The Italian foreign ministry said Thursday it was "aware" of contact made on Wednesday evening between the kidnappers and a security official at the hospital.
"We have of course activated all our contacts," an official at the ministry`s press service told AFP. "We are trying to understand the situation."
The director of PeaceReporter, Maso Notarianni, said he saw a "positive" sign in Wednesday`s demand. "We told them `no` to the first demand, and they make a second one. It`s the beginning of a dialogue," he told AFP.
The Italian photojournalist, a convert to Islam who and married with one child, is based in London but has spent the last three years in Afghanistan.
The last Italian national abducted in Afghanistan, aid worker Clementina Cantoni, was held for 24 days in May 2005.
An Afghan court in December sentenced to death for murder the leader of a gang who was also convicted of kidnapping and holding Cantoni.
Timur Shah told the court he had abducted Cantoni in a bid to win the release from police custody of his mother and other relatives.
The state prosecutor cited a confidential document that said the kidnapper had received 200,000 dollars from the Italian embassy, though Afghan officials denied claims that a ransom was paid for Cantoni`s release.