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Taleban Officials Still Mulling S. Korean Hostage Exchange

  • Benjamin Sand

Desperate efforts to free the remaining 21 South Korean hostages continue in Afghanistan. Taleban officials say they are still seeking a possible prisoner exchange a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai ruled out making any concessions to end the stand off. From Kabul VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

The negotiations continued Tuesday with no sign of any progress.

A top Taleban spokesman said the militant group would consider a one-for-one swap for pro-Taleban female prisoners held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai in Washington Monday reaffirmed a joint U.S.-Afghan policy ruling out any deals to help free the 21 South Korean hostages.

Afghan officials though say they are working with South Korea to help set up face-to-face negotiations with the Taleban.

Until then, provincial governor Merajuddin Pattan says talk of a possible military intervention is premature.

"We still haven't made the decision yet to have a military action there but the Koreans are requesting that we should wait until their face-to-face negotiations bear fruit," said Pattan.

Taleban forces kidnapped 23 South Korean church volunteers from a bus in Ghazni province on July 19.

Since then the militants have executed two of the male hostages and threatened to kill the rest, most of whom are women, some reported to be extremely sick.

The hostage crisis has exposed growing divisions within the international coalition operating in the region.

In South Korea relatives of the victims condemned Washington for not doing more to help free the hostages.

Hundreds of South Koreans have joined broader protests against the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan.

And here in Afghanistan, rumors and conspiracy theories abound linking the kidnappers to neighbor Pakistan.

Governor Pattan says he believes members of Islamabad's powerful intelligence agency known as the ISI are behind the crisis.

"There is no doubt," he said. "There is no doubt…guys in the room when we were speaking with them on the phone they were translating the words in Urdu..."

Those accusations, widely repeated in the local media here in Afghanistan, could seriously damage efforts to end a growing diplomatic rift between the South Asian neighbors.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are both key U.S. allies. They will discuss cross-border security issues in a landmark assembly or grand jirga in Kabul later this week.

Pakistan was a major backer of the Taleban until September 2001, when it allegedly cut ties with the militant group and agreed to support the U.S.-led war against terror.

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