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New Threat to Kill S Korean Hostages
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Taliban militants threatened yesterday to kill some of their 22 South Korean hostages if there was no progress by noon today on their demand for the release of eight jailed rebels.

Government-appointed negotiators insisted however that the Islamic extremists free the 16 women in the group of Christian aid workers captured on July 19 before they would consider the militants' demands.

An envoy dispatched from Seoul after the Taliban on Wednesday shot dead the leader of group, a 42-year-old pastor, meanwhile held talks with President Hamid Karzai who assured that his government was doing what it could.

The Taliban leadership had decided that if the Afghan and South Korean governments "don't pay attention to this issue by tomorrow 12 o'clock (07:30 GMT Monday), the Taliban will kill some Korean hostages," militant spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said.

Four other deadlines set by the militants have lapsed without incident but the Taliban on Saturday expressed impatience, with 17 of the South Koreans said to be ill.

Ahmadi said earlier yesterday the Taliban was "trying to the maximum possible level to solve this issue via talks and that is why we have still kept alive the hostages for this long period."

The South Koreans had been divided into small groups and were being held in three different provinces, he said. "Some of the hostages have some health problems due to weather or psychological pressure they feel," he said.

Afghan authorities, who have already ruled out an exchange of captives, said yesterday they wanted the women to be released before considering any demands.

In "Islamic law and Afghan culture we cannot harm women and should not take women as hostages and prisoners," said a leading member of the negotiating team, Mahmood Gailani.
"After they free the women, we are ready to negotiate with them about the male hostages," said Mirajuddin Pattan, governor of Ghazni Province where the group was captured.

Gailani said the release of Taliban prisoners was not an option but others could be considered.

Asked if this may include paying a ransom, he said: "We are still exploring our options. We should hear from their side and what their demands are."

The government was widely criticized when it released five Taliban prisoners in March to free an Italian hostage and Karzai vowed afterwards such a deal would not be repeated.

Karzai's office said meanwhile that South Korean envoy Baek Jong-chun had told the president his government would accept "any position" taken by Kabul in dealing with the latest hostage crisis.

"We are well aware of the Afghan culture and the difficulties the Afghan government and people are faced with in their fight against terrorism, and will respect their decision to end the hostage crisis," Baek was quoted as saying in a statement.

Several foreigners have been held this year by militants waging a deadly insurgency against the Western-backed government that replaced the Taliban regime driven from power in late 2001.

Most of them have been freed, some apparently after hefty ransom payments, although in the case of the Italian journalist two Afghans were beheaded.

(China Daily via AFP July 30, 2007)

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