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Afghans Continue Talks On South Korean Hostages

Most of the South Korean volunteers pose before leaving for Afghanistan (epa) July 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Negotiations to free 22 South Korean hostages seized by Taliban militants resumed today in Afghanistan.

Two Afghan lawmakers, including a former Taliban commander, Abdul Salaam Rocketi, and several influential elders have joined the negotiations.

Korean Envoy Arrives

Afghan officials say they are hopeful about securing the release of the 22 Christian aid workers, who are now in their 10th day of captivity. The leader of the group was killed earlier this week.

A South Korean envoy, Baek Jong-chun, sent from Seoul, is due to have talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S.-led force commanders later today.

The Taliban said on July 27 that it would give the government more time to allow the special envoy to negotiate, but it repeated its threat to kill the aid workers if the Afghan government does not release eight rebel prisoners.

On July 27, Afghan officials said the negotiations had stalled because of differences among the Taliban kidnappers.

But a Taliban spokesman denied those claims, saying the kidnappers were giving the Afghan government more time to allow a special envoy from South Korea to join negotiations.

The Afghan government's negotiating team includes local and national politicians, clerics, and tribal leaders. The envoy from Seoul is expected to join them after meeting today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and with commanders of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Afghan officials say they are hopeful about securing the release of the Christian volunteer aid workers, who are now in their 10th day of captivity. But the Taliban has repeated its threat to kill the hostages unless the Afghan government starts releasing Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban shot dead the leader of the South Korean group, Presbyterian pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, on July 25 and dumped his bullet-ridden body alongside the country's main highway in Ghazni Province to the south of Kabul.

During the past week, Afghan authorities have said they would not use force to free the hostages. But some Afghan officials told Reuters today that force may be used if negotiations fail and more hostages are killed.

In Ghazni today, Afghan police set up checkpoints to stop cars and conduct searches of people entering the provincial captial. Police officer Isaq Ali says the checkpoints are needed to prevent more foreign nationals from being kidnapped in the area.

Preventive Measures

"We have tightened the security to avoid any attack from enemies," Ali said. "As you know, a number of foreigners were abducted by the Taliban. We are here to make sure these kind of things don't happen again in the future."

Foreigners also have been banned from traveling on their own outside of Kabul without first informing the Afghan government.

In Ghazni today, residents have been speaking out about their anger over the abductions and the killing of the South Korean group's leader. Among them is Mirza Khan.

"We call on the Taliban to release the foreigners as soon as possible," Khan said. "They were guests of the Afghan people. They came here to help our country. It is not fair to keep them detained."

Meanwhile, in Seoul, about 100 activists held a rally today to urge the Taliban to free the the remaining 22 hostages.

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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