GHAZNI, Afghanistan (AFP) – The Taliban on Monday again promised that two of their 21 South Korean hostages in Afghanistan would be released within hours, as talks on their fate entered a fourth day.
After earlier pledges of an imminent release never materialised, a spokesman for the militant group said that two of the Christian aid workers who were taken hostage nearly one month ago would be freed.
“Two female hostages will be freed and handed to the Red Cross office at 1600 local time (1130 GMT),” spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP.
Taliban representatives have said two women in ill health would be released as a “goodwill gesture” to prove their integrity following face-to-face discussions here with a diplomatic delegation from South Korea.
Negotiations over the fate of the South Koreans entered their fourth day Monday in the town of Ghazni, about 140 kilometres (90 miles), south of Kabul, Ghazni province police chief Alishah Ahmadzai told AFP.
The Taliban abducted 23 South Koreans in volatile Ghazni province on July 19. Two male hostages have been shot dead, and the insurgents have threatened to kill more if jailed Taliban prisoners are not released.
The government of President Hamid Karzai has ruled out any deal with the militants, who have been waging a mounting insurgency since they were toppled from power by a US-led invasion in 2001.
Taliban negotiators and spokesmen have delivered a string of promises since Saturday, saying at one stage the only reason the two women had not reached the point for handover was due to “transportation difficulties”.
The negotiations have been taking place at the office of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, which is aligned with the International Committee of the Red Cross, in the town of Ghazni.
The South Korean embassy in Kabul would not comment on any possible release.
“Until they come, we cannot say anything,” a spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
“We are still waiting. The one thing clear is that our negotiating team has maintained a good channel with the Taliban,” he said.
The talks are seen as one of the last hopes for the 21 captives with the government repeatedly rejecting the demand for a prisoner swap.
Kabul came in for heavy criticism for freeing five Taliban prisoners in March to save the life of an Italian journalist captured by the insurgents.
The extremist militia was also involved in the separate abduction mid-July of two German engineers, one of whom has since been killed.
The Taliban have also demanded a prisoner swap for the surviving German, who is being held with four Afghans.