KABUL, Afghanistan - A top
South Korean official headed to Afghanistan on Thursday on a mission to secure
the release of 22 Christian volunteers held captive by Taliban kidnappers after
the militants killed a hostage.
A local police chief said negotiations with the Taliban
captors have been difficult because their demands were unclear.
"One says, 'Let's exchange them for my relative,' the
others say, 'Let's release the women,' and yet another wants a deal for money,"
said Khwaja Mohammad Sidiqi, police chief in Qarabagh. "They have got problems
A South Korean man reads a newspaper showing a picture of
kidnapped Koreans during a candle light vigil demanding the safe return of
the hostages and the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, in central
Seoul July 26, 2007.[Reuters]
After conflicting reports that possibly eight of the other hostages had been
released, presidential spokesman Chun Ho-sun said the 22 South Koreans were
still believed held but were not suffering health problems.
In new violence, US-led coalition forces and Afghan troops fought two
separate battles with militants in southern Afghanistan, killing more than 60
suspected Taliban insurgents. A NATO soldier was killed in another incident,
On Wednesday, authorities found the bullet-riddled body of 42-year-old Bae
Hyung-kyu in Qarabagh district of Ghazni province, where the South Koreans were
abducted July 19. Bae, a deputy pastor and a founder of Saemmul Presbyterian
Church, was killed on his birthday, church officials said.
Bae was found with 10 bullet wounds in his head, chest and stomach, said
Abdul Rahman, a police officer. Another police official, who asked not to be
identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said militants told him
the hostage was sick and couldn't walk, and was therefore shot.
A church official confirmed that Bae previously had suffered from lung
disease and was still taking medicine.
Bae's mother, 68-year-old Lee Chang-suk, broke into tears as she watched the
televised government announcement of his death. "I never thought it possible,"
she said from the southern island of Jeju, according to Yonhap news agency.
The kidnappers "will be held accountable for taking the life of a Korean
citizen," Baek Jong-chun, South Korea's chief presidential secretary for
security affairs, said before leaving for Afghanistan.
Chun said South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun had spoken with his Afghan
counterpart Hamid Karzai on the situation.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, said all 22 hostages were
fine but claimed Afghan authorities were not allowing South Korean officials to
negotiate directly with his group.
The hostages were being held in small groups in different locations, he said,
and were being fed "the same food that our villagers have -- bread, yogurt,
Ghazni Police Chief Ali Shah Ahmadzai said the Afghan negotiators were
speaking with the Taliban over the phone.
"We will not use force against the militants to free the hostages," he said,
adding was hopeful about reaching "some sort of deal for the release of six up
to eight people" later Thursday.
Marajudin Pathan, the governor of Ghazni province, said militants have given
a list of eight Taliban prisoners who they want released in exchange for eight
An Afghan official involved in the negotiations earlier said a large ransom
would be paid to free eight hostages. The official also spoke on condition he
not be identified, citing the matter's sensitivity. No other officials would
confirm this account.
Foreign governments are suspected to have paid ransoms in Afghanistan in the
past, but have either kept quiet or denied it.
The South Koreans, including 18 women, were kidnapped while on a bus trip
through Ghazni province on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, Afghanistan's main
thoroughfare. Because of a recent spike in kidnappings, police announced that
foreigners are no longer allowed to leave Kabul without their permission.
The South Korean church has stressed that the abducted Koreans were not
involved in any Christian missionary work, saying they provided only medical and
other volunteer aid.
Two Germans were also kidnapped last week. One was found dead and the other
apparently remains captive. A Danish reporter escaped a kidnap attempt Wednesday
in eastern Afghanistan.
In the fighting in southern Afghanistan, coalition forces and Afghan troops
hit buildings in Helmand province that militants have been using to launch
attacks. More than 50 Taliban were killed and several others were wounded in a
"Coalition air support dropped two bombs on the compounds with the greatest
concentration of insurgents," the coalition said. "Both compounds produced
significant secondary explosions immediately suggesting a large quantity of
explosive material was present in each."
The clash occurred near the village of Musa Qala, where a peace deal struck
last year with local elders effectively ceded control of the area to Taliban
In neighboring Kandahar province, a clash left 10 suspected militants and one
policemen dead, said Sayed Afghan Saqib, Kandahar provincial police chief.
A NATO soldier was killed following a clash with militants in southern
Afghanistan, the alliance said.
A suicide car bomber, meanwhile, detonated himself near a NATO convoy in
Kandahar, but there were no injuries among the troops, said Lt. Desmond James, a
Canadian officer at the scene.
Violence has risen sharply in Afghanistan in the last two months. More than
3,500 people, mostly militants, have been killed in insurgency-related violence
this year, according to an Associated Press tally of casualty figures provided
by Western and Afghan officials.