SKorean envoy to meet Taliban

South Korean and Afghan officials searched for a meeting place Thursday after agreeing to hold face-to-face talks with the Taliban to seek the release of the remaining 21 South Korean captives, a chief negotiator said.

SKorean envoy to meet Taliban
South Korean and Afghan officials searched for a meeting place Thursday after agreeing to hold face-to-face talks with the Taliban to seek the release of the remaining 21 South Korean captives, a chief negotiator said.

A delegation of eight South Korean lawmakers, meanwhile, departed for Washington on Thursday to urge the United States to help negotiate the release of the hostages.

Earlier South Korean diplomatic efforts have failed to bend Afghanistan's refusal to respond to Taliban demands for the release of prisoners.

The Taliban captors have agreed to meet with South Korea's ambassador but have not found a suitable place, said Waheedullah Mujadidi, head of a delegation negotiating with the Taliban.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, denied the South Koreans had requested direct talks. But he said the Taliban would be willing to hold such a meeting in Taliban-controlled territory.

The Taliban "want to negotiate directly with the Koreans because the Kabul administration is not sincere about releasing the Taliban prisoners," Ahmadi told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Two of the 23 South Koreans kidnapped on July 19 have been killed. But after another deadline passed Wednesday, Ahmadi said the remaining hostages were still alive.

On Wednesday, Afghan army helicopters dropped leaflets warning citizens of upcoming military action in Ghazni province, where the church group volunteers were kidnapped while traveling by bus from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar.

At a conference in the Philippines, South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte agreed to place top priority on freeing the hostages safely, ruling out a military attempt to end the standoff, a South Korean official said Thursday.

In Washington, the South Korean delegation was to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and national security adviser Stephen Hadley. They also planned to meet U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, South Korea's former foreign minister.

"We will sincerely plead with the United States to take more substantial and meaningful measures to resolve this crisis," Rep. Cheon Young-se of the liberal Democratic Labor Party said before the delegation set off.

South Korea has sent a presidential envoy to Afghanistan and President Roh Moo-hyun has spoken by phone to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But the Afghan government has remained opposed to a prisoner swap, concerned it would encourage more kidnappings.

Afghanistan came under criticism from the U.S. and other Western governments this year for releasing prisoners to win the release of an Italian hostage.

Ahmadi said two female hostages were seriously ill and could die. A doctor who heads a private clinic said Afghan physicians would try to visit the hostages Friday and take them medicine.

Ahmadi also said that Mullah Omar, the Taliban's leader, appointed three members of the group's high council to oversee the hostage situation. The three have the power to order the killings of the South Koreans at any time, Ahmadi said.


AP
Last Mod: 02 Ağustos 2007, 17:20
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