GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Two ailing South Korean hostages held by the Taliban are to be freed by Monday morning, the governor of the Afghan province where they were abducted said on Sunday.
“The Taliban are releasing two sick female hostages as a gesture of good faith. They’ll be here by tomorrow morning in Ghazni (city),” provincial governor Merajuddin Pattan said.
“The Taliban promised to release two of the hostages, but they did not mention what time.”
Earlier, a spokesman for the rebel group said the women would be freed soon.
The same spokesman had said late on Saturday the two women had already been freed and would arrive in the city of Ghazni, close to where they and 21 other Korean church volunteers were abducted by the insurgents more than three weeks ago.
“The Taliban leadership council has decided to release the two female hostages within several hours,” Qari Mohammad Yousuf told Reuters by telephone from an unknown location on Sunday.
“They are sick, and we are hopeful that releasing them will positively reflect on releasing our prisoners.”
The Taliban have killed two male hostages and threatened to kill the remaining 21, 18 of them women, unless a similar number of Taliban prisoners are freed in exchange.
The Afghan government has refused to give in to the demand, saying that would just encourage more kidnapping.
Yousuf has made conflicting statements in the past, blaming problems communicating with fighters in the field. This time he blamed the media for the confusion.
“It is confusing in the media reports. I said that our council decided to release them, I did not say they are released,” he said.
The South Korean government declined to comment.
“We have no comment on the reports. But we are maintaining a direct contact with (the) Taliban,” a South Korean government official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
The government will confirm reports and make comments when it secures the hostages, he said.
South Korean diplomats were to have held a third day of face-to-face talks with Taliban negotiators on Sunday to try to free the prisoners, but Pattan said the meeting did not take place.
Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Jon Hemming in KABUL and Cheon Jong-woo in SEOUL