Aug 29, 2007
One of three released South Korean hostages is helped by an International Red Cross official.
SEOUL, South Korea -- Taliban militants have released 12 out of 19 South Korean hostages held in captivity in Afghanistan for more than a month.
The hostages were released into the care of officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross at three separate locations in central Afghanistan close to the city of Ghazni, according to The Associated Press .
The first group of three women were released in the village of Qala-e-Kazi. Several hours later, four women and one man were released in a desert close to Shah Baz. As dusk approached, four more hostages were freed on a main road around 31 miles from Ghazni.
They were part of an original group of 23 Christian aid workers who were abducted July 19 from a bus by Taliban militants, who later executed two of the South Koreans and freed two others -- leaving 19 in captivity.
The insurgents have said they will free the remaining 7 hostages, whom they are holding in different locations, over the next few days.
On Tuesday, a presidential spokesman said South Korean negotiators in Afghanistan had reached a deal with Taliban militants.
Under the terms of the agreement, South Korea agreed to stick by its previous decision to withdraw its 200 non-combat troops from Afghanistan (http://topics.edition.cnn.com/topics/afghanistan), which work mostly in an engineering and medical capacity.
In addition, Seoul promised to halt all Christian missionary work in Afghanistan.
The spokesman said there was no agreement to pay the captors, nor was there any mention of releasing The Taliban (http://topics.edition.cnn.com/topics/the_taliban) prisoners -- a major demand of the kidnappers.
The accord for the South Koreans' release came during one of the bloodiest periods of the Taliban's war against U.S. and NATO forces since the Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
South Korea's decision to hold face-to-face negotiations with the militants may dismay the United States government, which refuses to talk to the Taliban.
"Maybe they (the Taliban) did not achieve all that they demanded, but they achieved a lot in terms of political credibility," Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, told AP. "The fact that the Koreans negotiated with them directly and more or less in their territory ... is in itself an achievement."
The hostages' relatives in South Korea welcomed news of the deal.
"I would like to dance," Cho Myung-ho, mother of 28-year-old hostage Lee Joo-yeon, told AP.
Cha Sung-min, whose 32-year-old sister, Cha Hye-jin, was among the hostages, said he was "sorry to the public for causing concern, but we thank the government officials for the (impending) release."
"Still, our hearts are broken as two died, so we convey our sympathy to the bereaved family members," said Cha Sung-min, who has served as a spokesman for the hostages' relatives.