Taliban kill South Korean hostage in Afghanistan

GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents shot dead a South Korean hostage in Afghanistan on Wednesday and threatened to kill 22 others, but a deadline passed without word from the kidnappers or the Afghan government.

A Taliban spokesman had said the government had been given until 2030 GMT to release rebels from prison or the remaining 22 Korean Christian volunteers would be killed.

“Yes, they have killed one of the hostages and efforts are under way to have the others released,” said the Qarabagh district chief in Ghazni province, Khowja Seddiqi.

The body of the Korean was later found with bullet wounds.

The Taliban accused the government and South Korean negotiators of failing to act in good faith after Kabul rejected a demand for eight named rebels to be freed from prison.

“Since Kabul’s administration did not listen to our demand and did not free our prisoners, the Taliban shot dead a male Korean hostage,” Qari Mohammad Yousuf told Reuters by telephone from an unknown location.

“If the administration of Kabul is not ready to release our hostages, then by 1 a.m. (local time) the rest of the hostages will be killed,” he said. “That time is the last deadline.”

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Yousuf said the Korean hostage had been killed in a desert area in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni close to where the 23 Korean church volunteers -- 18 women and five men -- were abducted on the main road south from Kabul last week.

He rejected Korean media reports that the Taliban planned to free eight of the captives.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged not to swap prisoners for hostages after being criticized at home and abroad for releasing five Taliban from jail in March in exchange for an Italian reporter.

But the president and ministers have remained silent throughout the latest hostage ordeal.

The kidnappings have made travel outside major cities risky for the thousands of foreign aid workers and U.N. staff in Afghanistan and may weaken support for military involvement among the more than 30 nations with troops in the country.

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In the past 18 months there has been rising violence in Afghanistan, with daily clashes between Taliban insurgents and Afghan and foreign troops. Suicide and roadside bomb attacks have spread to areas previously considered safe.

A NATO soldier was killed on Wednesday in a rocket-propelled grenade attack, the alliance said. A French and a British soldier were also killed in two other separate attacks.

Anxious family members of the Korean hostages gathered at the offices of a non-governmental agency in Seoul to follow developments on television. Sounds of crying emerged when the news came out that one of the hostages had been killed.

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About 1,000 people went to the church, which sent the volunteers to Afghanistan, to pray for their safe return, the broadcaster YTN reported.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a German journalist reported to have been kidnapped denied he had been abducted.

But a German and four Afghans seized last week are in Taliban captivity. The body of a second German with the group was found with gunshot wounds.

Germany has rejected a Taliban demand that it withdraw its 3,000 troops from Afghanistan.

Additional reporting by Rohullah Anwari in Asadabad, and Sayed Salahuddin and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul and by Kim Do-gyun in Seoul