Vol. 5 Num 1141 Tue. August 14, 2007  
Front Page

Taliban free 2 South Korean hostages

Two women among 23 South Koreans kidnapped by the Taliban in mid-July were freed yesterday on a rural Afghan roadside, the first significant breakthrough in a hostage drama now more than three weeks old.

The two women, who broke into tears after seeing the international Red Cross officials there to take custody of them, got out of a dark gray Toyota Corolla driven by an Afghan elder and into one of two waiting Red Cross SUVs. The women said nothing to reporters alerted to the handoff location by a Taliban spokesman.

The women, who the Taliban have said are ill, were among church group volunteers kidnapped by militants on July 19.

The release is the first breakthrough in the hostage drama, which took a downturn in late July when two male captives were executed by gunfire.

The two women were brought to the arranged meeting point on the side of a road in rural Ghazni province by an Afghan named Haji Zahir, who also got into the Red Cross vehicle with the freed hostages.

The Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said on Sunday that the two women would be released in part because they were sick and because face-to-face negotiations that began on Friday were going well.

Two Taliban leaders and four South Korean officials met Friday and Saturday to discuss the fate of the hostages. Taliban leaders have demanded that 21 militant prisoners be released in exchange for the Koreans' lives; the government has said it will not release any prisoners.

The local governor has suggested in the past that the hostage standoff could be solved with a ransom payment.