A self-described Taleban spokesman says the Afghan government has until mid-day Friday (0730 UTC) to release captured militants in exchange for 22 South Korean hostages -- or more Koreans will be killed.
Purported Taleban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told Western news agencies by telephone Thursday that negotiations are still possible. He also said that the remaining captives are still alive.
CBS News reported on its Web site that one of the women hostages begged for help in a telephone interview with the U.S. television network.
The woman, identified as Im Hyun-joo, said the hostages are sick, exhausted and in very bad condition.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, expressed regret over the death of one of the South Korean hostages. He said the United States supports Seoul in its efforts to secure the safe return of its citizens.
A top South Korean envoy was due in Afghanistan late Thursday to try to secure the hostages' release.
Before departing for Afghanistan, South Korea's chief presidential secretary for security affairs, Baek Jong-chun, said the kidnappers will be held accountable for killing 42-year-old Christian aid worker Bae Hyung-ku. His bullet-riddled body was found Wednesday in Ghazni province.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has denounced the killing. He also called on Taleban militants to immediately release the remaining captives.
The 23 South Korean Christian aid workers, 18 women and five men, were abducted last week as they were riding in a bus in eastern Afghanistan.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AFP.