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South Korea defends handling of hostage crisis

South Korea defends handling of hostage crisis

South Korea sought to dispel possible international criticism Wednesday of its handling of a hostage crisis in Afghanistan after negotiating directly with the Taliban to free its citizens.
The South Korean government said it offered no major concessions to reach Tuesday's breakthrough deal with the Taliban for the release of the 19 remaining hostages _ except reaffirming its existing plan to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and prevent missionary work in the Muslim nation.
Still, a series of face-to-face negotiations with the captors itself was seen as a concession made in breach of a widely accepted international principle of not negotiating with terrorists, as well as a boost to the Taliban's profile.
South Korean presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-sun said the government tried to adhere to international principles while putting priority on saving the hostages.
"I don't think we made a big deviation from the international community's principle and practice," he told reporters Wednesday.
"Other countries, when faced with this kind of problem, resolve the problem through contacts with kidnappers. I think there is no exception to this," he said.
Cheon also said the government is ready to provide "sufficient explanation if there is a misunderstanding in the international community" about its handling of the crisis.
The Taliban seized 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, and they released two women earlier this month.
The executions prompted the Seoul government to seek face-to-face talks. The negotiations did not go well initially as the Taliban demanded that insurgents jailed in Afghanistan be released in exchange for the hostages.
But the captors appeared to have backed down on that demand in Tuesday's deal.
Seoul has disavowed any secret concession.
South Korea's Munhwa Ilbo newspaper wrote that the handling of the crisis left the country with a "weighty burden" because it "shook" the international principle of not negotiating with terror groups and raised the Taliban's status, helping it act "like a government."
"International skepticism that South Korean diplomacy is distanced from principle could remain a considerable burden," the newspaper said in an editorial. "We are concerned that this may give a wrong perception that South Korea can be pushed."


Updated : 2021-05-15 23:40 GMT+08:00