"This request from the Koreans has been accepted by the Taliban and now we are working on how, where and when this meeting could take place," he said.

 

A member of the South Korean delegation told AFP that the Taliban's agreement to a meeting had not been officially confirmed to his group.

  

The Taliban said late on Wednesday they had not killed any more of the aid workers after the expiry of a deadline earlier in the day because the chance of direct talks with the South Koreans could open a "new phase of negotiations".

 

'No military operation'

 

In Manila, Song Min-soon, the South Korean foreign minister, and John Negroponte, the US deputy secretary of State, discussed the hostages during a meeting on Thursday on the sidelines of an Asian security conference, a foreign ministry official said.

 

"The two sides ruled out the possibility of military operations and placed a top priority on safely resolving the issue by mobilising all means," Song said after the meeting, the official said.

 

"The United States is not preparing military operations," he quoted Song as saying.

 

In another development, eight senior members of South Korea's National Assembly left for Washington on Thursday to urge US officials to take an

"active and positive" approach to the crisis, amid widespread perceptions that Washington is key to ending the crisis by influencing Afghanistan's government.

 

Song indicated there were difficulties in ending the crisis because of a US policy of refusing to negotiate with people it regards as terrorists, but vowed to resolve the issue while keeping intact the principle, the South Korean official said.

 

The body of Shim Sung-Min, the second hostage to be killed during the hostage crisis, arrived at Seoul's Incheon airport Thursday evening.

 

Sung-Min’s brother, friends, church officials and doctors were waiting at the airport, from where the body of the 29-year-old was to be taken to a hospital to be received by other relatives.