- Angelina Jolie stunt double sues News Corp over hacking
- Kanye West wins over critics with 'daring' new album 'Yeezus'
- Shares choppy, dollar steady as Fed meets
- Massachusetts police search NFL player's home in homicide probe: report
- Journalist who brought down U.S. general is killed in Los Angeles car crash
Afghan Taliban frees remaining S.Korean hostages
(Updates with UN chief's statement, paragraphs 10-11)
By Jan Agha
GHAZNI, Afghanistan, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents freed seven remaining South Korean hostages in Afghanistan on Thursday after a six-week kidnap ordeal, following a deal that Afghan officials said included a ransom payment by Seoul.
The four women and three men were handed over in two batches to officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ghazni province in southeast Afghanistan, from where the Taliban seized 23 Christian volunteers on July 19.
It was the largest case of abductions in the resurgent Taliban campaign since U.S.-led troops ousted the Islamists from power in 2001.
"The remaining hostages released are in good health, and the hostage drama is over," said Merajuddin Pattan, governor of Ghazni. "We have identified the people responsible for that and they will be punished in the coming weeks. We will teach them a lesson."
Reporters were not allowed to speak to the released captives as they stepped down from a minibus after dusk outside Ghazni town, the women covering their heads and faces with scarves.
The Taliban killed two male hostages last month, but later agreed to release 19 others they were still holding after Seoul agreed to pull all its nationals out of the insurgency-wracked central Asian country.
Some Afghan officials say South Korea agreed to pay a ransom during negotiations with the Taliban, which one foreign diplomat said started out as a demand for $20 million.
The South Korean government was praised at home Thursday for its part in securing the release of its nationals. But some said Seoul may have set a dangerous precedent in directly negotiating with the Taliban.
"The Canadian position on dealings with terrorists is well-known to all those with even a passing familiarity with the subject. We do not negotiate with terrorists, for any reason, Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said in a statement.
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean Foreign Minister, was "happy that those released are now on their way to being safely reunited with their loved ones," said U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe.
But she said Ban was "deeply concerned for the safety and welfare of the other nationals who are being held against their will in Afghanistan," including a German and four Afghans.
South Korea's presidential Blue House said that under the deal it struck with the Taliban it must withdraw its small contingent of non-combat troops in the country within the year and stop its nationals from doing missionary work in Afghanistan.
However, South Korea had already decided before the crisis to pull its 200 engineers and medical staff out of Afghanistan by the end of 2007. Since the hostages were taken, it has banned its nationals from travelling there.
A spokesman for South Korea's president, Chon Ho-seon, was evasive in responding to questions at a news briefing in Seoul Wednesday on whether a ransom was part of the deal, saying only South Korea had done what was needed.
Taliban fighters also seized two German aid workers and five Afghan colleagues in a separate incident in mid-July in Wardak province, southwest of the capital Kabul.
The Taliban killed one German, but are still holding the other along with four Afghans. One Afghan escaped. (Additional reporting by Yousuf Azimi in GHAZNI, Hamid Shalizi in KABUL, Jon Herskovitz in SEOUL and Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this