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Central & South Asia
Korean officials meet Taliban
Face-to-face talks held three weeks after 23 aid volunteers were kidnapped.
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2007 16:34 GMT
Two of the 23 South Korean hostages have
already been killed by the Taliban [AFP]

South Korean negotiators have been meeting Taliban officials in an attempt to secure the release of 21 hostages held in southern Afghanistan, an Afghan official said.

The talks between two senior Taliban leaders and four negotiators in Ghazni on Friday was the first face-to-face meeting since the Koreans were kidnapped three weeks ago.
A Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera that its officials had received a written guarantee from the Afghan government that they would not be arrested at the meeting.

The movement also said it will not kill any more of the hostages before the talks.
"Until we sit for face-to-face negotiations with the Koreans, we have no plans to kill any Korean hostages," Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said earlier on Friday.

'Hopeful development'

The meeting comes after days of stalled negotiations on the safe release of the hostages.

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"This is a very hopeful development in this situation," Dan Nolan, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said.

"We had gone almost a week where they have been looking for an appropriate meeting venue to hold face-to-face negotiations."

Twenty-three South Koreans, who were working with a church group as health aid volunteers, were abducted on July 19 as they travelled by bus from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar.
 
Two of the male hostages have been executed by the Taliban.

The captors have repeatedly threatened to kill more of them if their demands to release Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government and the US military are not met.

Both Kabul and US officials have refused, saying that doing so would encourage more kidnappings.

Aid pullout

South Korea's government has also called for aid organisations to leave Afghanistan by the end of the month, citing safety reasons, an embassy official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The measure comes after the government banned its citizens from travelling to Afghanistan last month.

South Korean authorities will decide whether they can return to the country after "the situation settles down," the official added.

Ahmadi said the departure of South Korean aid workers would move forward negotiations with the Taliban.

"The pulling out of Korean aid workers will have an effect on our negotiation process because pulling out of Koreans from Afghanistan is part of our demand. It will have a positive effect," he said.

Cha Sung-min, a spokesman for the hostages' families in South Korea, said the mothers of several female hostages will travel to Dubai next week to seek help from the Arab world.

"The reason why we are sending women, especially mothers, to Dubai is that Islamic culture has more sympathy for women," he said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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