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South Korea, US, Rule Out Force to Rescue Hostages in Afghanistan


South Korea and the United States have agreed not to use force to free the 21 remaining South Korean hostages held by the Taleban in Afghanistan.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte discussed the hostage issue in Manila Thursday - on the sidelines of an Asian security conference.

A South Korean official said the two sides "ruled out" the possibility of military operations and agreed to "mobilize all means" to safely resolve the crisis.

A delegation of South Korean lawmakers is traveling to the United States to persuade Washington to help end the hostage standoff.

A purported Taleban spokesman said Wednesday the hostages are still alive, but it is possible they will be killed. He also warned any rescue operation would jeopardize the hostages' lives.

The kidnappers have already killed two hostages. The militants want the Afghan government to exchange Taleban prisoners for the remaining captives.

The Kabul government has refused the militants' demands.

Another deadline imposed by the group passed on Wednesday.

Twenty-three South Korean Christian volunteers were abducted July 19 while traveling by bus to southern Kandahar province, a Taleban stronghold. The bodies of two of them, identified as Shim Sung-min and Bae Hyung-ku, were found in Ghazni province.

On Wednesday, the Afghan military dropped leaflets warning of a possible military operation in Ghazni, where the Taleban is suspected of holding the South Koreans. But Afghan officials say the leaflets refer to a routine operation not related to the hostage situation.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.