More S.Korean hostage talks sought

Updated: 2007-07-30 16:03

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan governor pleaded Monday with the Taliban to extend a deadline for the lives of 22 South Koreans after militants warned the Afghan government to release some of its captured fighters or else hostages will die.

Marajudin Pathan, the governor of Ghazni province where the South Koreans went missing on July 19, said that authorities talked to the Taliban after they set the Monday deadline and asked for two more days of talks.

"Fortunately, they did not reject our demand outright, but said that they need to talk to their leaders," Pathan said.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said Sunday the militant group had given a list of 23 insurgent prisoners it wants released and if they weren't freed by noon (3:30 a.m. EDT) Monday, some hostages would be killed.

"It might be a man or a woman ... We may kill one, we may kill two, we may kill one of each (gender), two of each, four of each," Ahmadi told The Associated Press by satellite phone from an unknown location. "Or we may kill all of them at once."

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban on Pathan's extension demand.

Last week the Taliban set several deadlines that passed without consequence, and it wasn't clear how seriously the militants would treat their latest ultimatum for the 22 remaining South Korean hostages, including 18 women.

A leader of the group was shot and killed on Wednesday but it was unclear why.

On Sunday, President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials tried to shame the Taliban into releasing 18 female South Korean captives, an attempt to tap into a tradition of cultural hospitality and chivalry.

In his first comments since the hostages were abducted, Karzai criticized the Taliban's kidnapping of "foreign guests," especially women, as contrary to the tenets of Islam.

"The perpetration of this heinous act on our soil is in total contempt of our Islamic and Afghan values," Karzai told a South Korean envoy during a meeting at the presidential palace, according to a statement from his office.

Echoing Karzai's words, Afghanistan's national council of clerics said the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, taught that no one has the right to kill women, children or elders.

"Even in the history of Afghanistan, in all its combat and fighting, Afghans respected women, children and elders," the council said. "The killing of women is against Islam, against the Afghan culture, and they shouldn't do it."

But the Taliban spokesman instead invoked the religious tenet of "an eye for an eye," alleging that Western militaries are holding Afghan females at bases in Bagram and Kandahar, and the Taliban can do the same. He said the Taliban could detain and kill "women, men or children."

The South Koreans were kidnapped while traveling by bus on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, Afghanistan's main thoroughfare. Their church has said the captives were not involved in Christian missionary work in Afghanistan, but that it will suspend some of its volunteer work there.

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