Taliban free 3 South Korean hostages
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
QALA-E-QAZI, Afghanistan - Taliban militants released three South Korean hostages on Wednesday, the first of 19 captives scheduled to be freed under a deal struck between the insurgents and the South Korean government.
The three, all women, were first handed to tribal leaders, who took them to an agreed location where officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross picked them up, according to an Associated Press reporter who witnessed the hand over.
The three arrived in the central Afghan village of Qala-E-Kazi in a single car, their heads covered with green shawls. They said nothing to reporters, who were asked by Red Cross representatives not to question them.
Red Cross officials quickly took the three to their vehicles before leaving for an undisclosed location.
In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Hee-yong said the three, who he identified as Ahn Hye-jin, Lee Jung-ran and Han Ji-young, did not appear to have any health problems.
To secure the hostages' release, South Korea reaffirmed a pledge to withdraw its 200 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and prevent South Korean Christian missionaries from working there. The Taliban apparently backed down on earlier demands for a prisoner exchange.
The Taliban originally kidnapped 23 hostages as they traveled by bus from Kabul to the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar on July 19. In late July, the militants executed two male hostages, and they released two women earlier this month.
The insurgents have said they will free the hostages, who they are holding in different locations, over the next few days. Mullah Basheer, a Taliban commander, said that up to seven other hostages would "possibly" be released later Wednesday.
The accord for the South Koreans' release came during one of the bloodiest periods of the Taliban's war against U.S. and NATO forces since the Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
South Korea's decision to hold face-to-face negotiations with the militants may dismay the United States government, which refuses to talk to the Taliban.
"Maybe they (the Taliban) did not achieve all that they demanded, but they achieved a lot in terms of political credibility," said Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. "The fact that the Koreans negotiated with them directly and more or less in their territory ... is in itself an achievement."
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Tuesday that the U.S. wanted the Koreans returned to their families and stressed that U.S. policy was not to make concessions to terrorists.
The deal for the hostages' release was struck during talks between Taliban negotiators and South Korean diplomats in the central city of Ghazni. The Afghan government was not party to the negotiations, which were mediated by the ICRC.
The hostages' relatives in South Korea welcomed news of the deal.
"I would like to dance," said Cho Myung-ho, mother of 28-year-old hostage Lee Joo-yeon.
South Korean presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-sun said the deal had been reached "on the condition that South Korea withdraws troops by the end of the year and South Korea suspends missionary work in Afghanistan."
Cha Sung-min, whose 32-year-old sister, Cha Hye-jin, was among the hostages, said he was "sorry to the public for causing concern, but we thank the government officials for the (impending) release."
"Still, our hearts are broken as two died, so we convey our sympathy to the bereaved family members," said Cha Sung-min, who has served as a spokesman for the hostages' relatives.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
what about the rest of them?
They've already made the deal. 3 more have been released but what about the rest? Will they wait until the end of the year when the troops are withdrawn???