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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, himself a South Korean, also called Mr. Karzai and expressed “grave concern” over the abductions.

It was not clear what the Koreans were doing in Afghanistan. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that most were members of the Saemmul Community Church in Bundang, just south of Seoul. A year ago, hundreds of South Korean Christians were ordered to leave Afghanistan following rumors they were proselytizing in the Islamic nation.

Mr. Ahmadi warned the Afghan government and U.S. and NATO forces not to try to rescue the hostages or they would be killed.

“We have surrounded the area but are working very carefully. We don’t want them to be killed,” said Ali Shah Ahmadzai, the provincial police chief in Ghazni.

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger, meanwhile, said a crisis team is pursuing “every clue” and is in close contact with the Afghan government.

Germany has 3,000 soldiers in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, who are stationed in the mostly peaceful northern part of Afghanistan. South Korea’s 200 soldiers in the U.S.-led coalition largely work on humanitarian projects, such as medical assistance and reconstruction.

In South Korea, family members of kidnapped victims urged the government to accept the Taliban trade, noting Seoul already decided to bring its soldiers home this year.

“We hope that the immediate withdrawal [of troops] is made,” Cha Sung-min, a relative of one of the hostages, told reporters.