Kabul - The fate of 22 South Korean Christian volunteers kidnapped by the
Taliban in Afghanistan hung in the balance on Thursday, a day after the rebels
shot dead one hostage and dumped his bullet-ridden body near where the group was
The Taliban said the Afghan government had been given until late Wednesday
night to agree to exchange the group for eight imprisoned rebels, but the
deadline passed without word from the kidnappers or government.
Earlier reports by some media that eight hostages had been released have been
denied by officials, negotiators and a spokesman for the Taliban.
"Yes, they have killed one of the hostages and efforts
are under way to have the others released," said Khowja Seddiqi, district chief
of Qarabagh in Ghazni province where the crisis has unfolded.
A relative of South Koreans kidnapped in Afghanistan reacts
as they watching TV news reports on negotiations in Seoul, Wednesday, July
25, 2007. Taliban militants claimed they shot and killed one Korean
hostage on Wednesday while a group of abductees was freed and taken to a
US military base, officials said. [AP]
South Korea's government strongly condemned the murder of the yet unnamed
male hostage, calling it an unforgiveable atrocity.
"The government and the people of South Korea condemn the kidnapping of
innocent civilians and the atrocity of harming a human life," said Baek
Jong-chun, presidential Blue House chief national security adviser.
"Harming innocent civilians can never be justified and we will never forgive
this kind of inhumane act," he said in a nationally televised statement.
The Taliban accused the government and South Korean negotiators of failing to
act in good faith after Kabul rejected the demand for eight named rebels to be
freed from prison.
Initially the Taliban had also insisted South Korea withdraw all its troops
serving with an international force in Afghanistan -- something Seoul had
planned to do before the end of the year anyway.
"Since Kabul's administration did not listen to our demand and did not free
our prisoners, the Taliban shot dead a male Korean hostage," Qari Mohammad
Yousuf told Reuters by telephone from an unknown location.
Yousuf said one hostage had been killed in a desert area close to where the
23 Koreans -- 18 women and five men -- were abducted on the main road south from
Kabul last week.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged not to swap prisoners for hostages
after being criticized at home and abroad for releasing five Taliban from jail
in March in exchange for an Italian reporter.
The president and ministers have remained silent throughout the latest
hostage ordeal, but Seoul said it would soon dispatch a special envoy to step up
coordination with Kabul.
The kidnappings have made travel outside major cities risky for the thousands
of foreign aid workers and U.N. staff in Afghanistan and may weaken support for
military involvement among the more than 30 nations with troops in the country.
The past 18 months has seen rising violence in Afghanistan, with daily
clashes between Taliban insurgents and Afghan and foreign troops. Suicide and
roadside bomb attacks have spread to areas previously considered safe.
Anxious family members of the Korean hostages have gathered at the offices of
a non-governmental agency in Seoul to follow developments on television. Sounds
of crying emerged on Wednesday when the news came out that one of the hostages
had been killed.
About 1,000 people went to the church that sent the volunteers to Afghanistan
to pray for their safe return, the broadcaster YTN reported.