A team from the South Korean government plans to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban to negotiate the release of at least 18 Korean Christians being held hostage, said a Korean embassy official on Saturday.
The news came hours after purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi claimed that his militant Muslim group had killed two German hostages that were captured in the same region just a day before the Korean church group, according to Reuters.
Taliban militants had abducted two Germans and five Afghans working on a dam project in central Wardak province on Wednesday. The Muslim extremists group had declared that they would kill the two Germans if Berlin does not pull out its 3,000 troops serving in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan within next the 24 hours.
"The German and Afghan governments didn't meet our conditions, they didn't pull out their troops," Ahmadi told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.
However, the Afghan government contends that one of the Germans died of a heart attack and the second is still alive.
Meanwhile, the fate of at least 18 South Korean Christians kidnapped Thursday is being threatened with death similar to the German hostages.
Ahmadi said that the Koreans would also be killed Saturday if South Korea does not withdraw its 200 troops in Afghanistan, according to AP.
In response, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun urged the Taliban to "send our people home quickly and safely."
Family members of the kidnapped victims are urging the South Korean government to accept the Taliban's demand, noting Seoul had already decided to bring home its soldiers by the end of this year.
"We hope that the immediate withdrawal (of troops) is made," Cha Sung-min, a relative of one of the hostages, told reporters, according to AP.
However, South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon has repeated Seoul's plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year as scheduled, hoping to pacify the militants.
"The government is in preparations to implement its plan," he said.
The Korean Christians are part of a church group on an evangelistic and aid mission to Afghanistan. Their bus was seized by dozens of Taliban gunmen who kidnapped the passengers and abandoned the vehicle in the desert.
According to the Korean bus driver who was left in a nearby village, there are 23 South Koreans on the bus rather than 18 people that the Taliban says they hold captive. The discrepancy between the numbers remains unsolved.
Thursday’s incident was the largest-scale abduction of foreigners since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Taliban’s Ahmadi warned if the Afghan government, U.S., or NATO forces tried to rescue the hostages then they will be killed.
The provincial police chief where the hostages are captured, however, said his forces have surrounded the area but were working very carefully to not endanger the hostages.
The South Korean delegation are expected to arrive in Afghanistan on Sunday to talk with President Karzai and the Taliban to try to find an “understanding” to free the Korean Christians, a Korean official told Reuters.