Two bodies found in Afghanistan may be of Japanese tourists

Two bodies found in southern Afghanistan are suspected to be those of two Japanese tourists missing in the region since early last month, Afghan officials said Friday.

The bodies were being sent to the Afghan capital, Kabul, to be identified, said Kandahar provincial Gov. Asadullah Khalid. They were discovered late Thursday night in the desert about six kilometers (3.5 miles) from the main road linking the southern city of Kandahar to the border with Pakistan, he said.

Kenji Saito, the first secretary at the Japanese Embassy in Kabul, was quoted as saying by the AP: "We cannot confirm that they are Japanese."

"Afghan authorities say they suspect they are, but we do not know," he said. "We will look at the bodies when they are brought to Kabul."

The two missing Japanese, a man and a woman, crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan on Aug. 8 and had not been seen or heard from since.

Khalid said it was not clear from looking at the bodies how they died.

Two Taliban commanders earlier told The Associated Press by satellite telephone that they had not kidnapped or killed the two.

Southern Afghanistan is a former stronghold of the Taliban regime, which was ousted from power in 2001, and the area is still rife with militant activity. More than 1,100 people have been killed in fighting there in the past six months.

Several foreigners have been killed or kidnapped in the region, and many governments advise their citizens against traveling there. On Wednesday, gunmen abducted an English engineer in the western province of Farah.

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