Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan freed the remaining three South Korean hostages late Thursday bringing to an end a six-week drama that saw two of the 23 original captives executed. Earlier in the day four others were released from captivity. Twelve others were released on Wednesday. VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad.
South Korean presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon told reporters earlier in the day that the hostages will be returned to their loved ones as soon as possible. He says the group will be flown from Kabul to Dubai and then on to Korea, perhaps as early as Saturday or Sunday.
Taleban insurgents originally kidnapped 23 South Korean Christian volunteers as they drove through Ghazni on July 19. The insurgents killed two of the hostages, two others were released several weeks ago.
But South Korea has come under fire for making concessions to the Taleban to help free the hostages. Seoul reaffirmed an earlier pledge to end its military presence in Afghanistan and also agreed to stop Korean missionaries from working there.
There are also reports South Korea may have paid a ransom, but both sides insist no money was exchanged. Several Afghan politicians criticized the deal, with or without ransom, saying it would only encourage more kidnappings in the future.
The Afghan government did not participate in the hostage negotiations that were coordinated by the Red Cross.
Abductions of local and foreign civilians have risen steadily throughout the year.
Security experts say the Taleban are increasingly using the tactic to destabilize the U.S.-backed central government.
In Washington, U.S. officials dismissed suggestions the South Korean deal would strengthen the Taleban.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, State Department Spokesman Tom Casey welcomed the release of the hostages.
"It has, again, representative of the kind of enemy we are facing in Afghanistan, that the Taleban engages in kidnapping, and also, we should not forget, in the murder of several of these hostages as well," he said.
Taleban insurgents are still holding a number of other hostages, including a German engineer and four Afghan co-workers kidnapped one day before the South Koreans.
A second German, taken at the same time, was shot to death after collapsing while in captivity.