Talks to free 21 South Koreans kidnapped by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan
were deadlocked on Monday, with still no agreement on where face-to-face
negotiations might take place.
Seo Jeong-bae (L) and Lee Hyeon-ja, the parents of Korean
hostages Seo Kyeong-suk and Seo Myeong-hwa, react as they read a letter
for their children kidnapped by the Taliban during a news conference in
Seongnam, south of Seoul August 5, 2007. [Reuters]
The Taliban have killed two of the hostages and have repeatedly threatened to
kill the remaining 18 women and three men unless the Afghan government agrees to
free jailed rebels.
Afghanistan has refused to release Taliban prisoners, saying that would
encourage a kidnapping "industry."
not do anything that will encourage hostage-taking, that will encourage
terrorism. But we will do everything else to have them released," Afghan
President Hamid Karzai told CNN ahead of a visit to the United States where he
is holding two days of security talks with US President George W. Bush.
South Korea has proposed holding face-to-face talks with the Taliban as a way
of breaking the impasse, but a new apparent deadlock over where to hold the
talks has emerged.
Taliban kidnappers have demanded the meeting take place in territory they
control or under a United Nations guarantee for their safety if held elsewhere.
But after four days of talks on where to hold negotiations, there were few signs
"Discussions are going on as to where they can meet," said Merajuddin Pattan,
the governor of the province of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, where the Koreans
were seized on July 20.
"We are trying to find a solution. Contacts between the Taliban and the
Korean ambassador are going on over the phone," he said.
The Taliban said on Monday they were still waiting for the Koreans to reply
to their conditions over a venue.
A UN spokesman said the international body had not received any request from
the Taliban to supervise or guarantee talks.
South Korean officials meanwhile made their first contact with one of the
hostages, an official in Seoul said on Monday.
"There was a telephone conversation with one hostage Saturday afternoon,"
said a South Korean official on condition of anonymity. The official declined to
give further details, citing a potential risk to the safety of the hostages in
The South Korean government is under intense domestic pressure to secure the
release of the hostages, but Seoul has told the insurgents there is a limit to
what it can do as it has no power to free prisoners in Afghan jails.
Afghan doctors delivered medicine for the hostages on Sunday, dropping them
at a pre-arranged spot in a desert area of Qarabagh district in Ghazni province.
One of the women hostages, Lim Hyun-joo, a 32-year-old nurse, pleaded for
help from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, himself a South Korean.
"We are innocent people. We came here to help the people, but now we are all
sick ... Dear Mr General Secretary Ban Ki-moon please save us ... We don't want
to die," she told Voice of America radio.
A day before the Koreans were seized, Taliban rebels in Wardak province,
north of Ghazni, kidnapped two German engineers and five Afghans.
One of the Germans suffered a heart attack and was shot dead and one of the
Afghans managed to escape. The rest are being held by the Taliban who are
demanding Berlin withdraw its 3,000 troops from Afghanistan. Germany refused to