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Afghan leaders join talks on S. Koreans

July 29, 2007|From the Associated Press

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Two lawmakers, one of them a former Taliban member, and several influential elders joined negotiations with the hard-line militia to gain the release of 22 South Korean hostages, though no progress appeared to be made.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, complained Saturday that the delegation of Afghan leaders "doesn't have the power to release prisoners" -- the key Taliban demand.

He said the Taliban wanted the hostages "to go home safe," but first wanted 23 Taliban militants released from Afghan prisons. Twenty-three Korean Christian aid workers, including 18 women, were kidnapped July 19 while traveling by bus between Kabul and Kandahar. One man was fatally shot, though the reason is unclear.

South Korean presidential envoy Baek Jong-chun had hoped to talk with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday, but the meeting did not take place, a South Korean Embassy official said in Kabul.

Former Taliban commander Abdul Salaam Rocketi, now a member of parliament, joined the talks, said Shirin Mangal, spokesman for the Ghazni provincial governor. A second lawmaker and several respected leaders from Qarabagh, the district in Ghazni province where the South Koreans were seized, also participated.

"When the elders and clerics go to talk with the Taliban, they will explain once again that taking hostages is not acceptable in Islam and Afghan culture," said Ghazni lawmaker Habib Rahman.

Afghan officials have said they are optimistic that the hostages could be freed, although the Taliban representatives said the captives would be killed if their demands were not met.

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