Taliban agree to release S Korean hostages

According to deal, South Korean military forces would have to leave Afghanistan soon

Ghazni, August 28:

The Taliban said today that 19 South Korean hostages held by the hardline militia for nearly six weeks would be freed “soon” after a successful round of negotiations.

A deal to broker the release of the Christian aid workers was reached in talks between Taliban leaders and South Korean diplomats in the town of Ghazni south of Kabul, said Taliban representatives.

“Both sides agreed that South Korean military forces and their missionary groups would leave Afghanistan and the Taliban would free the hostages very soon,” said a Taliban representative, who asked to remain anonymous.

In Seoul, the South Korean government confirmed the Taliban had promised to release the captives.

“The South Korean government welcomes the agreement on the hostage release,” presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-Seon said.

An Afghan source involved in the talks told AFP the deal hinged on all South Korean Christian aid groups leaving the country and the withdrawal of South Korea’s small 200-strong military force from Afghanistan. He said the hostages could be released in three to four days.

The last round of talks ended in deadlock just under two weeks ago, with the Taliban sticking to a demand that some of its men be freed from jail in exchange for the Korean aid workers.

Earlier today, Taliban commander Abdullah Jan, who is said to be holding the hostages, said the first talks for nearly two weeks on the hostage crisis had opened with the participation of Indonesian diplomats. Jan told AFP that the Indonesians were involved at the request of the Taliban, which wanted an Islamic party present.

The Taliban are also holding a German engineer who was kidnapped a day before the South Koreans. The group has said it wanted 10 jailed Taliban to be freed in exchange for the engineer, who is also said to be sick, and his four Afghan colleagues.

The kidnappings are among a series of incidents blamed on the Taliban, who are waging a bloody insurgency against the Kabul government and its coalition allies that has spiralled in intensity over the past year.

Meanwhile, three NATO soldiers were killed today in a suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan, the alliance force said. The attacker blew himself up at a bridge construction site, the International Security Assistance Force said in a statement that did not give the nationalities of the soldiers or the location of the attack.