Afghanistan Rejects Kidnappers' Demands

South Koreans hold a vigil in Seoul to urge the safe return of the 21 remaining hostages in Afghanistan who were taken by Taliban fighters on July 19.
South Koreans hold a vigil in Seoul to urge the safe return of the 21 remaining hostages in Afghanistan who were taken by Taliban fighters on July 19. (By Chung Sung Jun -- Getty Images)
By Amir Shah
Associated Press
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

GHAZNI, Afghanistan, July 31 -- The South Korean government and relatives of 21 kidnapped South Koreans appealed for U.S. help Tuesday, but Afghanistan said for the first time that it will not release insurgent prisoners -- the Taliban's key demand to free the captives.

Afghan police found the body of the second hostage slain since the Christian church group was seized nearly two weeks ago; the group's pastor was killed last week.

A purported Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, said some of the prisoners the militants want released are held at the U.S. base at Bagram, and al-Jazeera television broadcast a video reportedly of another Taliban captive, a German engineer.

The Taliban said more Koreans will die if its demands are not met by midday Wednesday. The militants have extended several previous deadlines without consequences, but killed 29-year-old Shim Sung Min on Monday after a deadline passed. His body, with a gunshot wound to the head, was found along a road in Andar district.

Twenty-three South Koreans -- 16 women and seven men -- were kidnapped while riding a bus July 19 on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. They are the largest group of foreign hostages taken in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that drove the Taliban from power.

In South Korea, relatives and a civic group pleaded for more U.S. involvement, and the president's office used more diplomatic language to prod the Americans.

"The government is well aware of how the international community deals with these kinds of abduction cases," the president's office said, an apparent reference to the U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists. "But it also believes that it would be worthwhile to use flexibility in the cause of saving the precious lives of those still in captivity."

The civic group People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy questioned what South Korea had earned for helping Washington combat terrorism. Seoul has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. Its forces in Afghanistan are noncombat medics and engineers.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said there is regular contact between U.S. and South Korean officials on the standoff but would not comment on specifics.

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman said that officials were doing "everything we can" to secure the hostages' release but that freeing militant prisoners was not an option.

"As a principle, we shouldn't encourage kidnapping by accepting their demands," Humayun Hamidzada said.


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