Taliban releases more S Koreans

Four of the remaining seven held by Taliban freed in deal reached with Seoul.

    Critics say Seoul may have set a dangerous precedent by dealing with the Taliban [AFP]
    Reto Stocker, the head of the ICRC delegation to Afghanistan, said representatives were on their way to pick up the three remaining hostages from an agreed location elsewhere.
     
    The Taliban released 12 South Koreans on Wednesday. Those hostages were also released into the care of officials of the ICRC at three separate locations in central Afghanistan.
     
    Deal
     
    The Taliban began freeing the Korean hostages after an agreement was reached in talks with a visiting delegation from South Korea.
     

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    The initial group of 23 South Koreans, who had travelled to Afghanistan to undertake aid work, were seized by the Taliban on July 19 in Ghazni.
     
    Under the terms of the deal, South Korea agreed to end missionary activities by Christian groups in Afghanistan.
     
    The Taliban initially demanded the release of its members held prisoner by the Afghan government.
     
    The group killed two of the Koreans and then released another two earlier in what it said was a goodwill gesture.
     

    The South Korean government won praise on Thursday for its part in securing the release of the 19 remaining hostages, but critics said Seoul might have set a dangerous precedent in directly negotiating with the Taliban.

     
    'Precedent'
     
    There has also been speculation that the South Koreans bought the release of the hostages, though both the Taliban and the South Korean government denied there was any secret deal.
     
    Alan Fisher, reporting for Al Jazeera from Kabul, said: "We've certainly heard rumours around Kabul - the figure of around 20 million pounds has been bandied around.
     
    "I spoke to one senior Afghan authority who, while not confirming the figure, did say that money was paid - that the South Koreans had paid cash to the Taliban."
     
    But Qari Mohammad Bashir, a Taliban commander, denied that a ransom had been paid.
     
    "I strongly deny this. It's not true that money was involved," he said.
     
    Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from South Korea, said: "Most people here [in Seoul] think that South Korea has probably paid a ransom, but that will be debated later when the hostages have returned home safely."

    Prior to the kidnapping, South Korea warned its citizens not to travel to Afghanistan and blocked many of its growing legion of evangelical Christians from going there due to safety concerns.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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