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Afghan Doctors Hope to Visit Ailing South Korean Hostages

  • Kurt Achin

Afghan doctors say they may soon get a chance to visit South Korean hostages held by the Taleban in Afghanistan. Two of the surviving 21 hostages are reported to be gravely ill, and South Korean and Afghan officials are struggling to secure their freedom. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

Afghan Doctor Rajia Sharibi said Friday that she and a medical team might be able to offer the hostages professional treatment for the first time since they were kidnapped more than two weeks ago.

She says she is ready, as an Afghan woman, to go and treat the hostages as a matter of humanitarian obligation.

Sharibi and several colleagues from an Afghan hospital are exchanging messages with Taleban insurgent kidnappers, and say the medical visit might be arranged within the next 24 hours.

A self-described Taleban spokesman is quoted in media reports as saying two of the female hostages could die from serious illnesses they have incurred from the stress and heat of their captivity.

The kidnappers have shot to death two of the male hostages, and say more may be executed if Taleban prisoners are not released from Afghan prisons.

Baek Jong-chun, a senior South Korean presidential envoy, returned to Seoul Friday after a week of unsuccessful diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to secure the hostages' release.

Despite Baek's return, South Korean presidential spokesman Cheon ho-seon says efforts to save the hostages continue.

He says the word "negotiations" is not appropriate, saying South Korea prefers to say it is in frequent "contact" with the Taleban.

It remains to be seen whether that "contact" will be face to face. The purported Taleban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, has told reporters the insurgents are ready for direct talks.

He says U.S. and Afghan officials have not been "sincere" in dealing with the Taleban. Because of that, he says, the Taleban welcomes direct negotiations with Korean officials.

Ahmadi's comments have fueled South Korean media speculation that a direct meeting may take place soon, but so far, no firm plans have been announced.

The Afghan government and its main security partner, the United States, have ruled out releasing any Taleban prisoners in exchange for the hostages, despite pleas for "flexibility" from the South Korean government and public. U.S. officials say refusing concessions to terrorists is a decades-old American policy designed to discourage hostage-taking.

Afghan, U.S. and South Korean officials have also ruled out any attempt at a military rescue for the time being.

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