A Taliban spokesman said Saturday that face-to-face negotiations with the South Korean delegation over the fate of 19 kidnapped aid volunteers have failed and future talks are unlikely.
After two rounds of in-person talks – with the last meeting held Thursday – the Taliban complained of lack of progress and said on Saturday that they are currently deciding the fate of the Koreans.
“The negotiations have failed. The Taliban leading council is making its decision now on the fate of the hostages,” spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told Agence France-Presse.
Since the beginning, the rebels have demanded the release of jailed militants in exchange for the hostages, which originally numbered 23, and now numbers 19 after the deaths of two male captives and the release of two female captives. The Afghan and U.S. governments, however, have repeatedly made it clear that the release of prisoners was not an option.
Both Aghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush have said releasing rebels would further encourage kidnapping as an industry in the insurgency-wracked country and support terrorism.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was criticized by the United States and other Western countries earlier this year for giving into terrorism after he released five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian reporter in March. He had vowed that the exchange would be a one-time deal.
“Further talks will not achieve anything – the Koreans told us that the Americans and the Afghan government are not ready to release our prisoners,” said Ahmadi.
Seoul has repeatedly explained to the captors that it is powerless to free the prisoners without the Afghan and U.S. government’s consent.
The group 23 South Korean volunteers – 16 reportedly females – were abducted nearly a month ago in insurgency-plagued Ghazni province. The church group was on its way to provide free medical services to poor Afghan citizens when their bus was hijacked on July 19.
Two male hostages have been killed since the group’s kidnapping – the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. The leader of the aid group, Bae Hyung-kyu, was the first victim, found dead July 25 with 10 bullet holes in his body. The body of the second victim, 29-year-old Shim Sung-min, was found July 30.
With the U.S.-Afghan governments taking a hard-line stance against a prisoner swap,.the recent South Korea-Taliban talks appeared to be one of the last hopes. The first round of talks paved the way for the first significant breakthrough in the over-three-weeks-old hostage drama with the release of two female hostages, who the Taliban freed as a “gesture of good will” because negotiations were going well.
Kim Ji-na, 32, and Kim Kyun-ja, 37, returned to South Korea Friday where they were reunited with their families and then taken to a military hospital. South Korea said a military hospital was chosen to avoid the former hostages being questioned by the media which could adversely affect negotiations for the remaining 19 hostages.
However, since the release of the two women, negotiations have not made any headway and no future talks have been set.
Although some reports have suggested that a ransom deal was quietly taking place for the remaining hostages, the Taliban spokesman said that face-to-face talks will only resume if South Korea and the Afghan government are willing to discuss a prisoner swap.