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Taliban Says Korean Hostages Still Alive

Relatives of the South Korean hostages in Seoul today (epa) August 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Taliban says that 21 South Korean hostages it is holding are all alive after the latest deadline passed with no breakthrough in talks, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported.

The Afghan government has refused to give in to the Taliban's demands to free prisoners, saying that would only encourage further abductions.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashari today told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that police are in the area, but no action to free the hostages has been launched.

"There is no plan for such operations in the near future. We are trying to solve the problem through negotiations. And for this purpose we are using the services and help of tribal chiefs and elders," Bashari said.

The head of the Afghan government's negotiating team on this hostage crisis, Wahidullah Mujadidi, told RFE/RL that negotiations continued for three hours today beyond the Taliban's latest deadline without progress.

Mujadidi said he had heard media reports of a government offensive under way in Ghazni today. But he said he could not confirm those reports. He also warned that any military operation against the Taliban in that area would complicate the sensitive negotiations.

Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said military helicopters dropped leaflets in the area today, warning civilians that a military offensive would start there soon.

But Azimi said those leaflets refer to what he called a "routine operation which will be launched in coming weeks."

The Taliban have killed two male hostages since the abduction of the South Korean Christian aid workers on July 19.

(with material from AFP, Reuters)