Afghan army choppers dropped leaflets warning the Taliban of an
assault to rescue 21 South Korean hostages, whose captors said were
still alive after another deadline expired.
There was no confirmation that a military operation had begun in
Ghazni province, where the Christian volunteers were abducted
nearly two weeks ago by the Taliban.
The Islamist insurgents, who are demanding the release of rebel
prisoners, killed two men from the original group of 23 after
previous deadlines they had set expired.
"The hostages are alive," Khowja Seddiqi, district chief of
Qarabagh, told Reuters. "The national army has dropped leaflets
from helicopters telling people in several districts to evacuate
their houses because it wants to launch an operation."
Afghan army and foreign troops were stationed in the area, but
no operation to rescue the hostages had begun, Seddiqi said.
A Taliban spokesman also said the hostages were alive, but two
women were seriously ill. He said the pair suffered from an unknown
illness and the Taliban did not have the right medicines to treat
Earlier the Defence Ministry said the Afghan National Army had
launched an operation in Ghazni, but insisted it was "routine" and
was not linked with the kidnapping.
The BBC, quoting local officials, said fighting had erupted in
the area where the hostages were being held.
Earlier in the day, a Taliban spokesman said the group was
expecting to hear from Afghan mediators over its demand for the
government to free rebels from jail, but insisted some of the
hostages would be killed if that demand was not met by 07:30 GMT
(3:30 PM, Beijing time).
The head of the Afghan government team tasked with trying to
secure the release of the hostages has not ruled out use of force
to end their ordeal.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said: "We have sent a
message to the Afghanistan government that a rescue operation
should not take place without the South Korean government's
Also on Wednesday, German officials reaffirmed Berlin would not
give in to pressure from the Taliban to withdraw troops from
Afghanistan, after Al-Jazeera television broadcast a video showing
a German hostage.
The man appeared on Al-Jazeera on Tuesday in a video without
sound but a presenter said the hostage, which the broadcaster
identified as Rudolf B., urged Germany and the United States to
pull their troops out of Afghanistan to help save his life.
"We cannot bow down to such demands," said Peter Struck, the
parliamentary leader of the center-right Social Democrats, who
share power with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
Struck, a former defense minister, said there was no question of
withdrawing the 3,000 troops Germany has in the north of
A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said experts were analyzing the
video, which showed one of the militants pointing a
racket-propelled grenade launcher at the man.
"This is a targeted attempt at intimidation," Julia Gross told a
news conference, adding: "The government is working around the
clock to try to establish contact with the hostage and try to free
The Taliban seized two Germans and five Afghans in the Wardak
province earlier this month. The body of one of the Germans was
found with bullet wounds, but the other German and four Afghans
were still being held by the Taliban.
One of the Afghan captives managed to escape.
The insurgents have demanded the release of 10 Taliban prisoners
held by the Afghan government and the withdrawal of German troops
from Afghanistan in exchange for the hostages' freedom.
Merkel has previously said Berlin would not give in to the
Germany is struggling to cope with a new threat from
hostage-takers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This has forced the government to take a new look at how it
deals with kidnappers, with some hard-liners insisting that all
consideration of ransom payments must stop.
Berlin's official line, repeated on numerous occasions in recent
weeks, is that it will not bow to militant demands.
"We undertake everything in our power, pursue every responsible
avenue to protect the lives of German citizens," government
spokesman Thomas Steg said this week. "Our stance is unchanged. The
German government cannot be blackmailed."
But it is an open secret that Germany has paid in the past.
(China Daily via agencies August 2, 2007)