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South Korea Strikes Deal For Hostage Release in Afghanistan

  • Benjamin Sand

Taleban militants and South Korean officials say they have reached a deal to free 19 South Korean hostages held for more than a month in Afghanistan. From Islamabad, VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

South Korea presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon confirmed the government had agreed to certain Taleban demands to secure the release of the hostages.

He said South Korea would withdraw 200 of its troops stationed in Afghanistan - as planned by the end of the year - and suspend missionary work.

The deal was made during face-to-face talks with Taleban militants Tuesday in Ghazni.

Officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross helped coordinate the meeting.

Taleban insurgents seized 23 South Korean church volunteers as they drove through Ghazni province on July 19th. Two of the hostages were killed, two others released after a previous round of talks.

The agreement appears to be a significant compromise for the Taleban - which had first demanded the release of Taleban prisoners. But the Afghan government ruled out any deal.

Provincial Governor Merajuddin Pattan says the government was not involved in negotiations Tuesday and has made no concessions to the militants.

"There is no and there will be no kind of cease-fire between the Afghan government and the terrorist group, the Taleban," he said.

Speaking in Seoul, Cheon said it could still be some time before the hostages are actually released.

He says officials are doing their best to free the captives as quickly as possible.

The South Korean hostage taking was the largest single kidnapping case in Afghanstan since U.S. forces ousted the Taleban government in 2001.

Kidnappings in general are on the rise in the country. Security experts say the Taleban use kidnappings to terrorize communities and highlight the government's inability to protect them.