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Taliban agree to release South Korean hostages

One of the Taliban representatives, Qari Bashir, is seen in the vehicle of the International Committee of the Red Cross heading to the Afghan Red Cres...

One of the Taliban representatives, Qari Bashir, is seen in the vehicle of the International Committee of the Red Cross heading to the Afghan Red Cres...

Taliban militants agreed yesterday to free 19 South Korean church volunteers held hostage for more than a month after Seoul agreed to end all missionary work and keep a promise to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
The agreement, reached in direct talks between Taliban negotiators and South Korean officials meeting in central Afghanistan, ends a hostage crisis that had exposed the growing security problems facing Afghanistan.
Relatives of the hostages in South Korea welcomed news of the impending release.
"I would like to dance," said Cho Myung-ho, mother of 28-year-old hostage Lee Joo-yeon.
South Korean presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-sun said from Seoul that the deal had been reached "on the condition that South Korea withdraws troops by the end of year and South Korea suspends missionary work in Afghanistan," he said.
In reaching the deal, South Korea did not appear to commit to anything it did not already plan to do. Seoul has already said it would withdraw its 200 non-combat troops by the end of the year and has also sought to prevent missionaries from causing trouble in countries where they were not wanted.
The government and relatives of the hostages had insisted that the 19 kidnapped South Koreans were not missionaries, but were doing aid work.
The Taliban had also been demanding the release of militant prisoners in exchange for the captives' freedom. Afghan officials had ruled out any exchange, saying such a move would only encourage further kidnappings.
Taliban spokesmen have previously said they had no interest in a ransom payment.
Presidential spokesman Cheon told The Associated Press that he was informed by South Korean officials in Afghanistan that money was not discussed during negotiations with the Taliban.
There was no word on when the captives would be released.
The Taliban kidnapped 23 South Koreans as they traveled by bus from Kabul to the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar on July 19. In late July, the militants executed two male hostages. They released two women earlier this month as a good will gesture.
Yesterday's agreement came after face-to-face talks between both sides in the central town of Ghazni. It was the fourth time the two sides had held direct negotiations. All the talks had been mediated by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.


Updated : 2021-03-02 04:10 GMT+08:00