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S Korea hostage talks delayed

Talks due on Thursday between Afghanistan's Taliban and South Korean officials aimed at freeing 19 hostages did not take place as scheduled, though neither side ruled out a meeting.

world Updated: Aug 16, 2007 15:42 IST

Talks due on Thursday between Afghanistan's Taliban and South Korean officials aimed at freeing 19 hostages did not take place as scheduled, though neither side ruled out a meeting.

The Taliban had said negotiations with the South Korean delegation would start Thursday morning in the small town of Ghazni, about 140 kilometres (90 miles) south of Kabul.

But the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is facilitating the talks, said that the two sides had still not met by early afternoon.

"They have not started yet," deputy head of delegation Franz Rauchenstein told AFP, refusing to comment on the reasons for the delay.
New negotiations would be the first since Monday's release of Kim Gin-A, 32, and Kim Kyung-Ja, 37, two of the hostages who were taken by the hardline Islamic militants.

The two women were still in Afghanistan and arrangements were being made for their return home, the embassy said, with a departure expected "very soon."

After their release in Ghazni, they were due to have undergone medical checks at the US military base at Bagram, north of Kabul.

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun this week urged a redoubling of efforts to release the remaining 19 hostages, to build on Monday's success.

"The government has to make greater efforts to have them released. We shouldn't relax until the last moment," Roh said Tuesday.

The militia abducted 23 South Koreans, all Christian aid workers including 16 women, on July 19 as they were travelling by bus through insurgency-plagued southern Afghanistan.

They have killed two after the government refused a demand to release Taliban from jail, but on Monday released two as a "gesture of goodwill" for direct talks with the South Koreans over the remaining captives.

South Korea has said it understands the difficulties facing the Afghan administration as it tries to tackle an insurgency launched by the Taliban soon after they were driven from government in 2001.

The US-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was heavily criticised, notably by Washington, after it freed five Taliban in March in exchange for an Italian journalist.

The Taliban beheaded the journalist's Afghan driver and a translator, giving rise to accusations that Kabul put more value on the lives of foreign nationals than Afghans.

Karzai then vowed that such a deal would not be repeated, and officials have reiterated that agreeing to the extremists' demands would only encourage abductions by the Taliban and criminal groups alike.

The Taliban, who are influenced by Al-Qaeda, are also involved in the kidnapping of a 62-year-old German engineer captured near Kabul a day before the South Koreans.

The hardliners say talks with the Afghan and German government to free him are going nowhere, but officials say they are doing what they can.