No word of a breakthrough was heard after Thursday’s face-to-face talks between Taliban militants and South Korean officials over the fate of 19 church volunteers who are still being held hostage.
Representatives of South Korea and the Taliban met Thursday afternoon for three hours at the local office of the Afghan Red Crescent Society in Ghazni – the same location as the first round of face-to-face talks.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said the South Korean delegation again told the rebel negotiators that they are powerless to free the eight Taliban prisoners held by Afghan authorities – the captors’ “main demand” – in exchange for the hostages, according to The Associated Press.
Ahmadi said the Taliban leadership is now considering whether to continue with negotiations. South Korean officials, meanwhile, were not immediately available for comments, according to AP.
Thursday’s in-person meeting was the first since the militants released two female hostages – Kim Kyung-ja, 37, and Kim Ji-na, 32 – as a “gesture of goodwill.”
The two were originally said to be ill to the point where their lives were in danger, but after their release Monday were said to be “good condition” by Tuesday and left Afghanistan for Seoul by Thursday, according to Yonhap news agency.
With current South Korea-Taliban talks appearing to be one of the last hopes, South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun has called on his government to redouble its efforts to free the remaining 19 hostages.
“The government has to make greater efforts to have them released. We shouldn’t relax until the last moment,” Roh said this week, according to AFP.
Also, South Korea has said it understands the uncomfortable position that the situation has placed Afghanistan in as it tries to fight insurgencies and terrorism by the Taliban which has links to Al-Qaeda.
Both Kabul and Washington, meanwhile, have remained firm about not giving into terrorism, stating that the release of Taliban prisoners is not an option for saving the remaining hostages who were kidnapped nearly a month ago.
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. Although the Afghan president has vowed that the trade was a one-time deal, critics say the prisoner exchange incident was enough to encourage recent abductions in the country.
It has been nearly a month since the group of 23 South Korean Christian volunteers was abducted by Taliban gunmen in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province. Two male captives have been killed since their capture on July 19, including the group’s leader Bae Hyun-kyu, who was a youth pastor at the hostages’ home church – Saemmul Presbyterian Church in Bundang, South Korea.