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South Koreans, Taliban Resume Direct Hostage Talks

GHAZNI, Afghanistan; August 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports that a fourth round of direct talks between Taliban and South Korean delegates began today over the fate of 19 South Korean hostages.

The face-to-face talks, in Ghazni Province southwest of Kabul, started five hours later than scheduled.

The venue is an office of the Afghan Red Crescent society.

Taliban spokesman Zabehullah Mujahid told Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Hamid Mohmand that the focus of today's talks is a Taliban proposal to exchange Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government for the hostages.

But Ghazni Governor Merajuddin Pattan told Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Dawa Khan Menapal that he knows of no immediate plans by the Afghan government to release any Taliban prisoners.

The hostage takers abducted 23 South Korean Christian volunteer aid workers on July 19 from a chartered passenger bus as it was passing through Ghazni Province. The foreigners were returning to Kabul from Kandahar, where they had been providing medical aid to Afghan civilians.

The Taliban has executed two men from the group.

The militants on August 13 released two women hostages who had fallen critically ill, saying they were freed unconditionally as a "goodwill gesture."

That release came after numerous complaints in Afghan media by ordinary Afghans who said the Taliban is violating the Koran by using women as hostages.

Sixteen of the 19 remaining hostages are women.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, AP, AFP, dpa)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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