Annetta Flanigan of Northern Ireland, Philippino Angelito Nayan and Shqipe Habibi from Kosovo, met newly elected Afghani President Hamid Karzai before they prepared to return home.

The three UN workers were helping to organise Afghanistan’s presidential election when they were seized at gunpoint from a Kabul street on October 28th.

After meeting the President and discussing their ordeal, an emotional Ms. Flanigan read out a statement of behalf of the three.

The 43-year-old lawyer spoke of how the thought of loved ones helped the three stay positive.

“The hope of getting back together with them kept us going. We thank them for their love, their prayers and their friendship,” she said.

Ms Flanigan said the “awful experience” of the abduction had not changed the workers’ feeling for the country of Afghanistan and its people.

President Hamid Karzai said the people of Afghanistan were happy the incident was over safely.

The workers did not answer questions from journalists and refused to talk about the circumstances of their abduction or release.

Afghanistan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said the three had been abandoned in a location in Kabul but insisted there had been no payment to secure their release.

A Taliban splinter group, calling itself the Army of Muslims, said it released the trio after the authorities freed 24 of its followers from jail – a claim denied by Afghani authorities.

The kidnappers had threatened to behead the three hostages, but let deadline after deadline pass and even let the hostages telephone home.

The first kidnapping of foreign UN or aid workers in Kabul since the Taliban regime was ousted three years ago triggered fears of a spate of Iraq-style abductions of foreigners.