S. Korea's top diplomat denies ransom paid

Updated: 2007-09-02 10:34

South Korea's Foreign Minister Song Min-soon on Saturday denied reports that the country paid a ransom in order to secure the freedom of its citizens taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Nineteen Christian aid workers who were held for more than 40 days were released on Wednesday and Thursday. Two male captives were executed in July, while two female hostages were released earlier last month.

The release sparked suspicions that the South Korean government paid a large ransom to prevent the killing of any other members of the group.

Reuters reported earlier Saturday that a Taliban leader said South Korea paid the group more than $20 million to release all the hostages.

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"Such a thing has not been done," Song told reporters Saturday on arriving at Seoul's airport after finishing an eight-day trip to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

Regarding the government's possible plan to claim indemnity for expenses to free the hostages and bring them home, Song said the necessary actions will be taken after a thorough review of the incident.

"First of all, we will have to look into all the circumstances surrounding the event -- from how it began in the first place to how it was resolved," he said. "Then, we will take necessary measures."

Analysts said even if there was a ransom, the government would be unlikely to ask the church that sent the aid workers to the war- ravaged country or the families of the hostages for repayment.

The church has said it will pay the transportation and medical expenses for the freed captives.

The 19 former hostages arrived in Seoul on Sunday.

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