South Koreans rally for hostages

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Ahmadzai said he was hopeful about reaching “some sort of deal for the release of six up to eight people” later Thursday, without giving an explanation for his optimism.

Chun said that both governments were cooperating and that an Afghan official had told South Korea earlier Thursday that Kabul intended to negotiate with the Taliban. He said Seoul was aware of the Taliban’s current demands but declined to specify them.

Seoul also repeated its call that no rescue mission be launched that could endanger the captives further.

“We oppose military operations and there won’t be military operations that we do not consent to,” Chun said.

Marajudin Pathan, the governor of Ghazni province, said militants have given a list of eight Taliban prisoners who they want released in exchange for eight Koreans.

An Afghan official involved in the negotiations earlier said a large sum of money would be paid to free eight of the hostages. The official also spoke on condition he not be identified, citing the matter’s sensitivity. No other officials would confirm this account.

Foreign governments are suspected to have paid for the release of hostages in Afghanistan in the past, but have either kept it quiet or denied it outright. The Taliban at one point demanded that 23 jailed militants be freed in exchange for the Koreans.

The South Koreans, including 18 women, were kidnapped while on a bus trip through Ghazni province on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, Afghanistan’s main thoroughfare.

South Korea has banned its citizens from traveling to Afghanistan in the wake of the kidnappings. Seoul also asked Kabul not to issue visas to South Koreans and to block their entry into the country.

Because of a recent spike in kidnappings of foreigners including an attempt against a Danish citizen Wednesday Afghan police announced that foreigners were no longer allowed to leave the Afghan capital without their permission.

The South Korean church that the abductees attend has said it will suspend at least some of its volunteer work in Afghanistan. It also stressed that the Koreans abducted were not involved in any Christian missionary work, saying they provided only medical and other volunteer aid to distressed people in the war-ravaged country.

Two Germans were also kidnapped last week. One was found dead and the other apparently remains captive. A Danish reporter of Afghan origin escaped a kidnap attempt in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Danish Foreign Ministry said.

Associated Press Writer Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

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