The Taliban issued fresh threats to kill the remaining Korean Christian hostages and warned that the insurgents intend to continue to kidnap foreigners in Afghanistan.
The threats came as President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai meet at the presidential retreat Camp David to discuss Afghanistan’s deteriorating security problems and other issues including the 21 Korean hostages still held by the Taliban.
“In the past two days there has not been any contact between us and the Koreans or the Kabul administration,” said purported Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi to Agence France-Presse by telephone Sunday.
“So the killing of the hostages is inevitable and since we’ve not set a deadline for them, they could be killed at any moment, any time,” he added.
Negotiations for the release of the Koreans are at a deadlock with the Afghan and U.S. governments declaring that an exchange of rebel prisoners for the hostages - the Taliban’s main demand - would encourage more kidnapping and support terrorism.
“We will not do anything that will encourage hostage-taking, that will encourage terrorism. But we will do everything else to have them released," President Karzai said in a CNN interview broadcast on Sunday.
Afghanistan is facing the worst level of violence over the past 18 months since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.
In addition to threats to kill the hostages, the Taliban said regardless of how the hostage situation turns out, they plan to continue their kidnapping policy to pressure the Afghan government.
“Whether the Kabul administration will do the (prisoner) exchange or not, it will not have any effect on our side,” said Ahmadi, according to The Associated Press. “The process of kidnapping (foreigners) will be ongoing.”
South Korea, although not publicly calling for the release of the Taliban rebels, has urged “flexibility” and sent a delegation to Washington last week to plead for more U.S. intervention in the hostage crisis.
Seoul said it has conveyed to the Taliban that it is virtually powerless in granting the rebels’ demand to free prisoners held by the Afghan government and U.S. forces.
“Through our contacts, our foremost goal is to make it clear that there is a limit as to what our government can do to meet their demands of releasing the prisoners," said presidential spokesman Chun Ho-sun, according to Reuters.
Despite the seeming lack of progress, South Korea announced Monday that it was allowed to speak by telephone to one of the hostages on Saturday, according to AFP. However, Koreans officials did not disclose any further details because of the sensitivity of the situation. It is thought to be the first direct contact between Seoul and the Korean hostages since the abduction.
It has been nearly three weeks since the group of 23 South Korean Christians was kidnapped by Taliban militants in Afghanistan’s insurgency-prone 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.
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 second victim, 29-year-old Shim Sung-min, was killed last Monday and his funeral ceremony was this past Saturday.
The Taliban has informed that most of the hostages are ill with two severely ill to the point that their lives are in danger. On Sunday, a Afghan doctor said he dropped off $2,000 worth of antibiotics, vitamins and first aid kits in Ghazni province for the Koreans, according to AP. The doctor said the Taliban captors told him they had picked up the medicines.
The kidnapping of the 23 Korean Christians is the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.