Negotiations to gain the freedom of 23 South Koreans being held by Taleban rebels in Afghanistan reached a crucial point Tuesday as a deadline to kill them passed.
Talks between the Taleban and Afghan tribal elders, who are working with the Kabul government and South Korea, continued past the set deadline of 7 p.m. local time (1430 UTC).
Reports say Taleban militants have made up a list of jailed prisoners they want released in exchange for freedom of the same number of South Koreans.
Also Tuesday, U.S. and Afghan officials said more than 100 Taleban militants have been killed in battles in recent days.
The U.S.-led coalition said 36 militants were killed Monday in Helmand province. In a separate battle, Afghan officials said Afghan soldiers killed 13 militants in Kandahar province. And Afghan television reports some 65 Taleban fighters were killed in the Tora Bora area in eastern Afghanistan.
In the hostage standoff, kidnappers have threatened to kill the South Koreans unless South Korea agrees to pull its 200 troops from Afghanistan, and Afghan authorities release Taleban prisoners.
The 23 Christian aid workers were abducted Thursday as they were riding a bus through southeastern Afghanistan's Ghazni province.
About 150 villagers held a protest in Ghazni Tuesday demanding the Taleban free the hostages.
Also Tuesday, a purported Taleban spokesman, Yousef Ahmadi, said a German engineer held by the group in a separate kidnapping last week is sick and suffering from diabetes. The kidnappers also are holding five Afghans.
The body of a second German hostage was found Sunday after he apparently was killed by his captors.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.