Karzai, Bush to meet amid hostage crisis

Ghazni, August 5:

South Korea said today it hoped a meeting between the Afghan and US presidents could break the apparent deadlock in negotiations for the release of 21 aid workers held hostage by the Taliban.

President Hamid Karzai was to meet with US President George W Bush later today to discuss a range of issues — from the US-led “war on terror” being played out in Afghanistan to the country’s booming opium production.

But the Camp David meeting risks being overshadowed by the South Korean hostage drama in which Kabul, apparently backed by Washington, is refusing the Taliban’s demand for the release of jailed militants. “We are hopeful of any positive outcome from the meeting,” an official at the South Korean embassy in Kabul said, after Karzai headed to the United States with some of his most senior officials. “It is the decision of the Afghan government. We want to solve this in a peaceful and constructive way,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

Meanwhile, the Taliban frustration with the lack of progress in talks on the fate of 21 South Korean hostages turned into fresh threats today, with a spokesman saying more could be murdered at “any time”. But Yousuf Ahmadi also said the Taliban was ready to meet with South Korean negotiators in an attempt to reach agreement on the release of the Christian aid workers kidnapped 17 days ago.

“In the past two days there has not been any contact between us and the Koreans or the Kabul administration,” Ahmadi told AFP by telephone. “So the killing of the hostages is inevitable and since we’ve not set a deadline for them they could be killed at any moment, any time,” he said.

The South Korean embassy official said today: “We have contact but we cannot confirm the channel. We are using all possible means to mobilise help or support from all over the world.” At least 20 people, including six civilians and 10 police officers, were killed in a weekend of violence across insurgency-hit Afghanistan, police said today. In an attack blamed on Taliban insurgents, three policemen were killed in the eastern province of Kunar today, police said.