South Korea to Hold Direct Talks with Taliban Over Hostages

( [email protected] ) Aug 02, 2007 05:08 AM EDT

A South Korean delegation arrived on Thursday in the Afghan province where 21 Koreans are held hostage in an attempt to hold direct talks with Taliban kidnappers and peacefully end the two-week ordeal.

The Taliban have killed two Korean hostages, accusing the Afghan government of not negotiating in good faith and ignoring their demand to release rebel prisoners. They have repeatedly threatened to kill the rest if their demands are not met.

The Taliban have insisted on direct talks with the Koreans, but Seoul has no power to free prisoners from Afghan jails.

"The team, including the Korean ambassador, which has come for the release of Korean nationals, say they have come to speak to the Taliban about choosing a venue for talks," Ghazni provincial governor Mirajuddin Pathan told reporters.

"They say they have come to hold direct talks with the Taliban," he said.

The Taliban kidnapped 23 South Korean church volunteers, 18 of them women, in Ghazni province on the main road south from Kabul on July 20. Two male Koreans have since been killed.

The South Korean government is under intense pressure to bring the captives home, but has no power to meet the key Taliban demand -- the release of rebel prisoners.

The Afghan government has refused to give in to the demand, saying that would only encourage further abductions.

Instead, Seoul has gone on a diplomatic offensive to try to find a way out of the crisis that avoids either a risky military rescue bid or further Taliban killings of captives.


South Korea and the United States, which has more than 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, agreed not to use force to free the hostages, but Afghan troops also warned villagers of a possible offensive in the area where the captives are held. South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte met on the sidelines of a regional security forum in the Philippines on Thursday.