Ghazni, Afghanistan: Taliban militants extended until noon Friday (27 June 2007) the deadline to negotiate the release of 22 kidnapped South Koreans, as an envoy headed to Afghanistan to spearhead efforts to free them.
The moves came as one of the hostages made an emotional plea for help in a telephone interview with a US television network, after the Taliban said the captives had been spared death under an earlier “final” deadline.
The militants agreed to the new deadline following a request from the Afghan government, Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP from an unknown location.
“The deputy interior minister asked us to give them extra time until tomorrow 12:00 (1300IST) to be able to handle the issue. The Taliban leading council decided to give them time until tomorrow noon,” Ahmadi said.
The head of the Afghan government delegation negotiating the release of the South Koreans also confirmed the new timings.
“We managed to extend the deadline ... We are trying with all of our ability to win the safe and sound release of the South Koreans,” said Waheedullah Mujadadi.
The extension comes after the “final” deadline set by the Taliban for a prisoner swap for the hostages passed on Wednesday.
The Taliban said the 22 South Korean Christians were still alive following the discovery of the bullet-riddled body of their leader in a desert area on Wednesday.
“Since the last deadline no more Koreans have been killed,” Ahmadi said.
Meanwhile, a South Korean hostage held by the militants begged for help in a telephone interview with CBS News, the network reported on its website Thursday.
“We are in a very difficult time. Please help us,” said the woman, whom CBS said gave her name as Yo Cyun-ju.
“We are all pleading for you to help us get out of here as soon as possible. Really, we beg you.”
The network said that Yo spoke to CBS News late Wednesday after an interview was arranged with a Taliban commander.
“All of us are sick and in very bad condition,” she said, begging Seoul and the international community to make a deal with the Taliban to win their freedom.
She went on to describe her captivity as a “very difficult life every day,” and “a very exhausting situation,” CBS reported.
South Korea has identified the dead hostage as 42-year-old Bae Hyung-Kyu, a Presbyterian pastor and the head of the mostly female aid mission, which was reportedly in the country to provide free medical services.
His body was en route to the main US military base in Bagram, near the capital Kabul, and would be brought back to South Korea on the first available flight, the Korean news agency Yonhap said.
The rebels said they killed him because talks with the Afghan government and South Korean officials to secure the release of eight insurgent prisoners had stalled.
However, the governor of Ghazni province, where the South Koreans were kidnapped, said the negotiations were ongoing.
“I am hopeful that we will get results very soon,” governor Mirajuddin Pattan said.
Seoul said that Baek Jong-Chun, chief presidential secretary for foreign and security policy, had left for Afghanistan on Thursday as a special envoy for President Roh Moo-Hyun.
South Korea, which has 200 troops serving with US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, reiterated its opposition to any military rescue but highlighted the problems in negotiating with the captors.
“Their demands are considerably fluid and not unified. The armed insurgents are divided into different groups and the hostages are being kept in different places,” said presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-Seon.
The South Korean president himself denounced the pastor’s murder. “The organisation responsible for the abduction will be held accountable for taking the life of a Korean citizen,” Roh said in a statement.
The South Koreans were seized while travelling on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar last Thursday.
At the time, the Taliban demanded that Seoul withdraw its troops. South Korea responded by saying it would pull them out as previously scheduled by the end of the year.
The Taliban are also holding a hostage from Germany, which also has troops in Afghanistan, and had demanded the withdrawal of all German forces from the war-torn country as well.