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Taliban frees last S. Korean hostages

August 31, 2007|From Times Wire Services

JANDA, AFGHANISTAN — Taliban militants released their last seven South Korean hostages Thursday under a deal with the government in Seoul.

The seven Christian aid workers were handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross in two groups in Ghazni province, Red Cross officials said. The freed hostages did not speak to reporters.

The final three released -- two women and a man -- were handed over by armed men on a main road in Janda district. Covered in dust, they were quickly bundled into a Red Cross vehicle and driven away.

The seven were part of a group of 23 church volunteers abducted July 19 as they traveled by bus in southern Afghanistan. The militants killed two men in the group later in the month and released two women this month. On Wednesday, the Taliban released 12 other hostages.

The men accompanying the last hostages freed Thursday gave an unsigned note to journalists accusing the South Koreans of coming to Afghanistan on a mission to convert the staunchly Muslim country to Christianity, a charge that the South Korean government and relatives of the hostages have denied.

The crisis ended under a deal struck Tuesday between Taliban commanders and representatives of the South Korean government. Seoul repeated an existing plan to withdraw its 200 troops in Afghanistan before year's end and vowed to prevent missionaries from traveling to the country.

Cheon Ho-seon, a spokesman for South Korea's president, was evasive in responding to questions at a news briefing Wednesday in Seoul on whether a ransom was part of the deal, saying only that South Korea had done what was needed.

In Washington, the State Department welcomed the hostages' release. When asked whether South Korea's negotiations with the Taliban set a dangerous precedent, spokesman Tom Casey refrained from directly criticizing the Seoul government.

"I'd simply reiterate that the long-standing U.S. policy is. . . not to make concessions to terrorists," he said.

Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said more foreigners would be abducted "because we found this way to be successful."

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