VARIOUS: Remaining 22 Korean hostages alive in Afghanistan; families plead for their release
- Title: VARIOUS: Remaining 22 Korean hostages alive in Afghanistan; families plead for their release
- Date: 26th July 2007
- Summary: (W2) GHAZNI, AFGHANISTAN (JULY 26, 2007) (REUTERS) POLICE OFFICERS PATROLLING STREETS IN THE CITY
- Reuters ID: LVA2DEGG6FSWO1N0TR9UZKRFLJ1V
- Duration: 00:00:10
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- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,International Relations
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- Story Text: All of the remaining 22 South Korean hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan are alive, a spokesman for the Taliban says. Seoul has sent an envoy to step up efforts in Afghanistan to secure the release of the hostages.
Afghans have condemned the killing of one of the hostages, and police officials say they are working hard to secure the release of the remaining hostages, believed to be held by insurgents in the southern Ghazni province.
In Seoul, hostage family members plead with Taliban to release their relatives, while a small group of anti-war activists hold a rally demanding the withdrawal of South Korean troops from Afghanistan.
South Korea sent a senior envoy to Afghanistan on Thursday (July 26) to step up efforts to free 22 Christian volunteers held hostage by the Taliban after rebels killed the leader of the church group.
A Taliban spokesman said the remaining hostages were unharmed, despite the passing of a deadline overnight.
"They are safe and alive," Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. The Afghan government, he said, "has given us hope for a peaceful settlement of the issue".
Seoul despatched its chief presidential national security advisor, Baek Jong-chun, to boost coordination with the Afghan government in negotiations to free the Koreans.
He is expected to arrive in Afghanistan on Friday (July 27), which could mean the Taliban may wait till at least then to see what offer, if any, he brings.
The hostages, including 18 women, were abducted from a bus in Ghazni province last week. Ghazni's governor Mirajuddin Pathan urged the Taliban to at least free the women.
He said the Taliban had given the Afghan government a list of prisoners they wanted freed as part of an exchange, but he could not say if the central government would release them or not.
The Taliban had given the Afghan government until 2030 GMT on Wednesday (July 25) to agree to exchange the group for imprisoned rebels, but the deadline passed without word from the kidnappers until Yousuf spoke on Thursday morning.
General Ali Shah Ahmadzai, provincial police chief of Ghazni province where the 22 remaining hostages are being held, told Reuters on Wednesday the government was keen to resume negotiations with the kidnappers.
He said the Taliban had not been clear in its demands.
"We are in negotiations with them, we are waiting to receive one single demand from the Taliban, then the central government will make a final decision."
He confirmed they also believed the remaining hostages were safe.
The fate of the 22 Christian volunteers had hung in the balance overnight, after the rebels killed one hostage and dumped his bullet-ridden body near where the group were seized last week.
He was identified as the group's leader, Bae Hyung-kyu, a pastor who turned 42 on the day he was killed.
South Korea strongly condemned Bae's killing, calling it an unforgivable atrocity.
The Taliban accused the government and South Korean negotiators of failing to act in good faith after Kabul rejected demands for eight named rebels to be freed from prison.
Initially the Taliban had also insisted South Korea withdraw its 200 troops serving with international forces in Afghanistan -- something Seoul planned to do at the end of the year anyway.
Police officials in Ghazny said they had stepped up searches and increased patrols in the area. They said they were working hard to secure the hostages' release.
"We are sure the Koreans are alive and safe, we are working hard to release them," said senior police officer in Ghazny Wahdat Gull.
Many Afghan residents condemned the hostage taking and Bae's killing, saying they were cruel actions that violated the teaching of Islam.
"Every single Afghan, including myself, condemns the killing of the Korean citizen. This is an action against Islam and humanity, we felt sad to hear this," said Kabul resident Ahmad Jawad.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged not to swap prisoners for hostages after being criticised for releasing five Taliban from jail in March in exchange for an Italian reporter.
But the president and ministers have remained silent throughout the latest hostage ordeal.
The hostages' families made an impassioned plea to the Taliban.
"Members of the Taliban, please think of the sorrow of our families...
Please, I beg you. We hope you will help us have our families return to us safely," they said in a statement.
In the Southern Korean island of Jeju, Bae's parents and other family members held prayers for their killed relative in their local church after receiving news of his death.
South Koreans said they were extremely saddened by Bae's killing.
"I'm heartbroken because an innocent person who went there for a good cause was killed. I hope the Korean government will solve the problem promptly through various negotiations," said one Seoul resident.
The kidnappings have made travel outside major cities risky for the thousands of foreign aid workers and U.N. staff in Afghanistan and may weaken support for military involvement among the more than 30 nations with troops in the country.
A group of anti-war demonstrators gathered in Seoul, demanding their government withdraw South Korean troops from Afghanistan.
"The U.S. occupied Afghanistan and continued waging a war, then South Korean troops joined them in the name of an anti-terrorism war. That's the main reason why the hostage situation happened," said one anti-war demonstrator.
The past 18 months has seen rising violence in Afghanistan, with daily clashes between Taliban insurgents and Afghan and foreign troops. Suicide and roadside bomb attacks have spread to areas previously considered safe.
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- Embargoed:10th August 2007 13:00