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Karzai labels abductions un-Islamic and disgraceful

Afghan kidnappers say South Koreans will be killed if 23 militants are not freed today.

July 30, 2007|Emal Haidary and Laura King | Special to The Times

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — President Hamid Karzai declared Sunday that the abduction of 23 South Korean church workers by Taliban militants was an un-Islamic act that brought disgrace on Afghanistan.

Karzai issued his statement, his first since the hostage crisis began, after meeting with Baek Jong-chun, a special envoy sent by South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

Eighteen of the captives are women, and Karzai said their abduction was a particularly heinous act.

"Hostage taking and abuse of foreign guests, especially women, is against Islam and the Afghan culture," Karzai's office quoted him as telling the envoy. "The perpetration of this heinous act on our soil is in total contempt of our Islamic and Afghan values."

Similar sentiments were voiced Sunday by Afghanistan's national council of clerics.

Meanwhile, a purported Taliban spokesman set a new deadline of noon today for the freeing of 23 militants held by Afghan authorities, threatening to kill the hostages if the demand was not met.

"If the Kabul administration fails to meet our conditions by then, we will start killing the hostages," Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the kidnappers, said by telephone.

The Korean church workers were seized by militants July 19 as they traveled on a public bus along the Kabul-Kandahar highway. The group's leader, a pastor, was shot and killed by his captors Wednesday, setting off a wave of grief and dismay in South Korea.

The church group's decision to take public transportation on a notoriously dangerous stretch of highway has been termed extremely foolhardy by security officials and foreign aid personnel who work in Afghanistan. South Koreans have been riveted by the drama, and there has been an outpouring of sympathy for the hostages' plight.

Karzai's office said South Korean envoy Baek had thanked the Afghan leader for his efforts and would respect whatever course of action the government took to end the standoff.

Tribal elders in Ghazni province, where the group was taken captive, have been seeking without success to mediate an agreement with the kidnappers.

Several deadlines for the granting of the kidnappers' demands have passed without incident, but the abductors have repeatedly warned against trying to rescue the 22 remaining captives by force.

The captors say the church workers are being held in small groups in different locations, which would make their rescue difficult and complicated.

Ahmadi said some of them were ill.

Karzai has ruled out a prisoner swap.

He was heavily criticized for freeing five insurgent prisoners in March in exchange for the release of a captured Italian journalist -- a move many believe triggered more abductions.

laura.king@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Haidary reported from Kabul and Times staff writer King from Istanbul.

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