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S Korea paid $2m to buy hostages’ release?

world Updated: Sep 01, 2007 03:38 IST
Taliban extremeists

South Korea paid $2 million to Taliban extremists in Afghanistan to secure the release of 19 hostages, a Japanese newspaper reported on Friday.

Citing unidentified sources in Afghanistan, the respected Asahi Shimbun said Afghan mediators persuaded South Korea’s ambassador in Kabul that there was no other way to end the six-week kidnap ordeal.

“Two million dollars were paid to release all 19 people,” an Afghan mediator was quoted as telling the influential Japanese daily.

The Asahi Shimbun said both a South Korean official and a Taliban spokesman contacted by the newspaper denied any payment.

The Taliban, who earlier killed two of the hostages, freed the 19 Christian aid workers this week after South Korea promised to withdraw its military from Afghanistan as planned and ban missionary groups from the Islamic country.

South Korean officials have not commented on whether a payment was made to any party to help secure the release.

Asked about the Asahi report, a presidential spokesman said on Friday that there had been no discussions with the Taliban apart from those on the troop withdrawal and the missionary issue.

Indonesia denies report

Indonesia said that it was unaware of any ransom being paid to the Taliban, as it hinted at playing a key role in negotiating their release.

Foreign ministry secretary general Imron Cotan said that the Taliban, Kabul and Seoul had asked an Indonesian negotiator last Sunday to get involved in talks.

Indonesia’s embassy in Kabul sent a senior counsellor to attend the two-day talks in Ghazni, south of the Afghan capital, on Monday, Cotan said.

Asked whether any money exchanged hands, Cotan said: “As far as I know, according to our representative in the talks, there was no money involved in the negotiations.”

The foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Canada have criticised South Korea for negotiating directly with the insurgents, saying it could embolden them.

Meanwhile, rhe 19 aid workers had a tearful reunion at a secret location early on Friday.

They also learnt for the first time that two colleagues captured with them on July 19 were shot dead.

“They wept. They hugged. They were shocked at the news of the two men who were killed. They didn’t know about that,” a South Korean diplomat said on condition of anonymity.