중앙데일리

Taliban willing to meet Koreans for direct talks

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Aug 03,2007
The standoff over Korea’s captive Christian aid workers entered its third week with reports yesterday that the Taliban has agreed to face-to-face negotiations with Seoul’s ambassador in Kabul if a suitable meeting place can be found.
The fate of the 21 surviving hostages remained uncertain, while Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said the group “want to negotiate directly” with the Korean government. Ahmadi said Korea should “force” Kabul to release Taliban prisoners. He also warned that 16 of the hostages were ill, two critically. Two hostages were killed earlier after Kabul refused to meet a demand for Taliban prisoners to be released.
Marajudin Pathan, the governor of Ghazni Province, where the hostages were seized on July 19, said the Taliban agreed to the meeting at the request of Korean officials.
“All I can say is that we have stepped up our direct communication with the kidnappers. Before, we refrained from doing so because it’s Afghan territory,” said a well-informed Foreign Ministry source.
The possibility of the meeting came a day after leaflets were dropped in Ghazni warning of a military operation and increased house-to-house search operations by Afghan government forces were conducted.
The limited military operation led to false reports Wednesday that a hostage rescue mission was on. Those reports were denied and Reuters retracted its initial bulletin on the operation. Kabul Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said that the operations had no connection to the hostages.
Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo reiterated that Seoul is not considering any military rescue mission at this point. The JoongAng Ilbo’s stringer, Ali Abu Hassan, reported that as a result of the military activity, at least two hostages had been moved to nearby Paktika Province, a Taliban stronghold near the Pakistan border.
In other developments, Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte met at a regional security forum in Manila and agreed that no force would be used to free the hostages, a South Korean diplomat said yesterday. The forum adopted a statement urging the Taliban to release the hostages.
Presidential special envoy Baek Jong-chun also arrived in Islamabad yesterday, reportedly to seek help from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the agency that trained and nurtured the Taliban during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and still has close ties to the group.
Meanwhile, putting aside partisan differences, seven lawmakers from four political parties left for Washington yesterday to lobby for the Bush administration to use its influence to secure a prisoner swap. The delegation is to meet senior White House officials and lawmakers, although U.S. policy strongly opposes such releases.
Mounting pressure from the public and the killing of two hostages have officials here in a state of panic. Internet sites are flooded with frustrated comments. “Hostages have been killed and we are doing nothing,” said one message.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

By Brian Lee Staff Writer [africanu@joongang.co.kr]



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