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Confusion Surrounds Status of S. Korean Hostages in Afghanistan

Confusion surrounds the status of the South Korean hostages being held by Taleban rebels in Afghanistan. Insurgent spokesmen first said two of the 21 Koreans kidnapped more than three weeks ago had been released, but then reversed that to say all 21 are still being held. VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Kabul.

On Saturday, a reputed Taleban spokesman raised hopes by saying the release of all 21 was imminent. Then came word that two of the women hostages, both seriously ill, had been released.

But Afghan officials say none of the hostages has been handed over to the government.

Korean media are quoting a Taleban spokesman Sunday as saying the insurgent force changed its mind and decided not to free any of the 21.

South Korean officials, who are engaged in direct talks with the militants, are refusing any comment.

The face-to-face talks are being facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross. ICRC spokesman Jean Pascal Moret says Red Cross staff are standing by in case any of the hostages are released Sunday.

"Right now it is very contradictory. We are also waiting if they need us for any assistance, but we have for the time being…no information," Moret said.

The insurgents kidnapped 23 South Koreans July 19 in the Afghan province of Ghazni. Two of the 23 were killed, and the militants say they will kill more unless the Afghan government frees a number of Taleban prisoners.