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South Korean protesters rally in Seoul for the hostages' safe return (AFP)
August 2, 2007 -- A group of South Korean lawmakers departed for Washington today to ask for U.S. assistance in negotiating the release of 21 hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Taliban militants kidnapped 23 South Korean aid workers on July 19, and are demanding that the Afghan government release at least eight imprisoned militants in exchange for the lives of the captives. Two of the hostages have already been executed.
The Afghan government says it is negotiating with Taliban militants, but has refused to accept the militants' demand, saying it would only encourage more kidnapping.
South Korea has ruled out the use of military force to rescue the captives. South Korean presidential spokesman Chun Ho-sun today denied earlier media reports that a military operation was underway to free the remaining hostages.
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashari on August 1 told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that police are in the area, but no action to free the hostages has been launched.
(compiled from agency reports)