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Central & South Asia
Taliban frees two Korean women
Two members of group seized three weeks ago handed over in rural Ghazni province.
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2007 00:27 GMT

The two women were handed over to Red Cross officials near the province of Ghazni [Reuters]

Two South Korean hostages kidnapped by the Taliban in mid-July have been released to the International Committee of the Red Cross in an emotional handover, Al Jazeera reports.
 
The women, who broke into tears after seeing the Red Cross officials, are now in the custody of the South Korean delegation in Afghanistan and are in good health.

Dan Nolan, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said on Monday that the women were undergoing medical checkups and would later be transferred to the South Korean military base in Bagram.

The women were brought to the arranged meeting point on the side of a road in rural Ghazni province by Haji Zahir, an Afghan man, who also got into the Red Cross vehicle with the freed hostages.

 

Breakthrough

 

The handover is the first significant breakthrough in a hostage drama, which took a downturn in late July when two male captives were executed.

 

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Melissa Chan, Al Jazeera's correspondent in South Korea, said the families of the two hostages were notified of the anticipated release.

 

The women, who the Taliban has said are ill, were among 23 South Koreans kidnapped by Taliban fighters on July 19.

 

Taliban fighters seized the group - working in Afghanistan as volunteers with a Christian group - while they were travelling by bus from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar.

 

Goodwill gesture

 

A Taliban spokesman said the decision to free the pair had been made by the Taliban leadership council, headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, as a gesture of goodwill towards the Korean people and South Korean diplomats negotiating for the hostages' release. 

 

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, the Taliban spokesman, said on Sunday that the two women would be released in part because they were sick and because face-to-face negotiations, which began on Friday, were going well.

 

Two Taliban leaders and four South Korean officials met on Friday and Saturday for direct talks over the fate of the hostages.

 

Taliban leaders have demanded that 21 Afghan prisoners be released in exchange for the remaining South Korean hostages, otherwise the latter will remain in custody.

 

Poor health

 

The Taliban had initially promised to release the two female hostages, who are said to be in poor health, on Saturday, but said the delay was due to transport problems.

 

Nolan said the Taliban had told him early on Monday that the hostages are "very close" to the drop-off point and that "it will happen very soon".

 

The South Korean delegation in Afghanistan spent all day on Sunday in a convoy of vehicles near an agreed drop-off point waiting for a telephone call from the Taliban to say that the hostages had been released, Nolan said.

 

He also said that there have been no more face-to-face talks between the delegation and the Taliban since Saturday.


German hostage appeals

 

In related news, the Taliban are still holding a German captive they kidnapped a day before the South Koreans.

 

A man who has identified himself as the German national held hostage in Afghanistan for more than three weeks said on Monday that his Taliban captors wanted to kill him.

 

The man, who gave his name as Rudolph Blechschmidt, said that he was ill and appealed to the German government to help secure his freedom.

 

"The Taliban want to kill me," he said.

 

"I live with Taliban in the mountains," he told the news agency AFP via telephone in an interview arranged by his captors.

 

"I am in danger also, and I am very sick."

 

It has not however been possible to independently confirm the man's identity.

 

The man said his captors wanted to speak directly with the Afghan government and the Germany embassy, and appealed for help to arrange contact with them.

 

Colleague's fate

 

Blechschmidt, a 62-year-old engineer, as identified in the media, was captured on July 18 with a German colleague in the province of Wardak, near to Kabul.

 

His colleague, a fellow engineer, suffered circulatory failure a few days later and was then shot dead by the Taliban.

  

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister, made a statement to the media on July 21 in Berlin, saying the ministry had not received independent confirmation.

 

Four Afghans captured with the engineers are also believed to be held by the Taliban, who have demanded a release of prisoners in exchange for his life.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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