US appeal
 
Kim Jung-ja, the mother of one of the remaining captives, said: "We appeal for support from the people of the United States and around the world for resolving this crisis as early as possible.
 
"Especially, the families want the United States to disregard political interests and give more active support to save the 21 innocent lives."
 
Jug-ja read the statement before other relatives at the Saemmul Community church in Bundang, just outside Seoul, on Tuesday.

 

The appeal echoed comments by the South Korean president's office, after Afghan officials found the body of Shim Sung-min, 29, a former information technology worker who was a volunteer with a church group on an aid mission to Afghanistan.

 

Douglas Shin, a South Korean pastor, told Al Jazeera: "They did their preparation for the trip. But they could have had a lower profile than using a tourist bus to travel the Kabul-Kandahar road."

 

Meanwhile, in an apparent reference to the US policy of not negotiating with anyone it deems terrorists, the South Korean president's office said: "The government is well aware of how the international community deals with these kinds of abduction cases.
 
"But it also believes that it would be worthwhile to use flexibility in the cause of saving the precious lives of those still in captivity."
 
The Taliban had extended several previous deadlines without consequences, but killed Shim Sung-min on Monday after a deadline passed. The group's pastor was killed last week.

 

Criticism

 

Your Views

"If you don't compromise then it becomes useless to hold someone for ransom if you know the other side will not pay. The blood is always on the kidnappers' hands and not the other way around"

Ron, Hazlet, USA

 
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A South Korean civic group criticised the US for refusing to get more involved in the standoff, saying it was as if the US was watching "a fire across a river".

 

"As everyone knows, the Taliban's demand is something the US government can help resolve, not the Afghan or South Korean government," the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said in a statement.

 

"However, the US administration is refusing direct negotiations, repeating an existing position that it won't negotiate with terrorists.

 

"This is an irresponsible attitude when the lives of South Korean hostages are at risk."

 

The group also questioned what South Korea had earned for its alliance with Washington in its anti-terrorism campaign. Seoul has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.
 
Government steadfast

 

The calls come amid fears that rejecting the Taliban captors' demand for prisoner releases could lead to more killings after the latest deadline of midday Wednesday.

 

But the Afghan government explicitly said for the first time on Tuesday that it would not release Taliban prisoners – the group's chief demand to free the captives.

 

Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Hamid Karzai, the president, said: "As a principle, we shouldn't encourage kidnapping by accepting their demands."

 

In March, Karzai authorised the freeing of five captive Taliban fighters for the release of an Italian reporter, but called the trade a one-time deal.

 

The move was strongly criticised by the US and some European nations, with critics arguing it would be an incentive for the Taliban to stage more kidnappings.

 

'Un-Islamic'

 

Tom Casey, a spokesman for the US state department, said there was regular contact between US and South Korean officials on the standoff, but would not comment on specifics.

 

Seoul said it did not have the power to comply with the Taliban demands "because it doesn't have any effective means to influence decisions of the Afghan government".

 

"The Korean government strongly condemns and urges an immediate end to [the kidnappers'] heinous acts of killing innocent people in order to press for demands that it can't meet," the government said.

 

"The government makes it clear that it will not tolerate any further acts of harming innocent Koreans and holds the perpetrators responsible."

 

But the Taliban said more Korean hostages would die if its demands were not met by the deadline, noting that some of the prisoners it wanted released were held at the US base at Bagram.

 

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference on Tuesday added its weight to the calls for the release of the South Koreans, saying the act of kidnapping was "un-Islamic".

 

Judges killed

 

In a separate development, the bodies of four Afghan court officials kidnapped nearly two weeks ago have been found in the same province where Taliban fighters are holding the South Koreans.

 

The bound feet of two of the officials [AFP] 
A photographer for Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, said he had seen the bodies of the four men.

 

He said one had been shot in the head, the others in the body, and that their feet had been bound.

 

Police said the bodies had been dumped in a village in the southern Ghazni province.

 

The Taliban had claimed to have kidnapped the four but did not immediately confirm it was responsible for their murder.

 

Mohammad Zaman, a deputy police chief, said the men were judges from the neighbouring province of Paktika.

 

He said: "They were killed and their bodies were found in Deh-yak district last night."

 

Source: Agencies