The Taliban has for the first time spoken directly to South Korean government to negotiate the release of 21 South Korean nationals it has been holding hostage for a fortnight, a spokesman for the militant group said on Thursday.
The spokesman said the telephonic conversation was held between the South Korean ambassador to Kabul and a representative of the Taliban after Seoul made known it was ready for direct negotiations.
"Today there was a contact via telephone," Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yusif Ahmadi told DPA by phone from an undisclosed location. "Actually they have not asked us for face-to-face talks yet and if they ask us for a meeting and specify the place and time, our representatives are in Ghazni - they are ready to meet them."
Ahmadi, however, said the group had not resumed negotiations with Afghan mediators on Thursday. "No, we had no contact with the Afghan government mediation side; because they have said that they don't have any authority to handle this."
He said the South Koreans had promised to try and convince the Afghan and US governments to accept Taliban demands for a prisoner exchange.
Ahmadi emphasised that they would not offer any substitute demand other than the release of eight of their jailed comrades.
At a conference in the Philippines, South Korea and the US ruled out military action to rescue the hostages.
South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min Soon and US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte agreed that they will continue to work for the safe release of the hostages, adding that the US is not preparing any military operations.
On July 19, a group of 23 South Korean Christians, including 18 women, were kidnapped while travelling to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar from Kabul. Two male members of the group were killed and their bodies recovered by the police.