Thursday, August 30, 2007

Taliban freed remaining seven South Korean hostages

KABUL,Afghanistan - The Taliban released the remaining seven South Koreans held hostage since July 19 in central Afghanistan.

The hostages were handed over today to the International Committee of the Red Cross in the eastern province of Ghazni, head of the ICRC's Afghan delegation said.

The South Korean government later confirmed that it had taken custody of the former captives, part of a group of Christian relief workers, at an undisclosed location.

"It has been a long wait, but again they're in good health,"head of the ICRC's Afghan delegation Reto Stocker said. Twelve hostages were freed yesterday.

South Korea crafted a deal with the Taliban that officials in Seoul said involved reiterating plans to withdraw the country's 200 soldiers from Afghanistan this year and ending missionary activities there. The Taliban had demanded a South Korean withdrawal and the release of imprisoned fighters.

An agreement was reached to release the remaining hostages at face-to face talks between South Korean and Taliban negotiators two days ago. Indonesian diplomat Heru Wicaksono mediated in the talks.

The hostages were seized July 19 when their bus was stopped by the Taliban fighters as it was traveling to Kandahar in the south.

"As far as we can ascertain, they are in relatively good health. The individuals freed today will join those released earlier and will return home together as soon as possible," Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Hee Yong told reporters in Seoul

The hostages are expected to arrive in Seoul this weekend.In the weeks that followed the capture of the South Koreans, by the Taliban fighters shot dead two male hostages,and reiterated their threat to kill more. Two women were freed on August 12.

The Taliban is still holding a German citizen who was taken along with another German July 18 in Wardag province, west of Kabul. The other hostage was shot dead, German authorities said.

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