Taliban free 2 South Korean aid workers
Taliban kidnappers freed two South Korean women Monday, a move the fundamentalist militants described as a gesture of goodwill while they...
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban kidnappers freed two South Korean women Monday, a move the fundamentalist militants described as a gesture of goodwill while they negotiate the fate of 19 other Christian aid workers they still hold.
The two women were released into the custody of Afghan elders, then handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross in a rural roadside exchange just west of Ghazni province, where they were abducted while traveling with a group of 23 South Korean volunteers July 19.
The Taliban killed two men, including the leader of the church group.
They continue to hold 16 women and three men.
The two freed women had been ill, according to a purported Taliban spokesman.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry identified them as Kim Ji-na, 32, and Kim Kyong-ja, 37. The government said they would undergo medical exams by a South Korean military unit stationed at the Bagram Air Base near Kabul before returning to Seoul.
Ghazni Gov. Mijardden Patan insisted no deal had been made for the release.
South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said his government was "moving to win the rest of our citizens held hostage through various means," according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.
The Taliban have demanded trading the South Korean captives for an equal number of their captured fighters.
That has been rejected by the Afghan government, which in March came under criticism for swapping five Taliban prisoners for a kidnapped Italian journalist.
A few hours after the women's release, a German engineer kidnapped last month said in a telephone conversation orchestrated by his captors that he was ill and had been threatened with death.
The man identified himself as Rudolf Blechschmidt and spoke stiffly and with frequent pauses, as though reading from prepared remarks.
The conversation came about when the hostage takers phoned an Associated Press reporter and unexpectedly put Blechschmidt on the line.
Elsewhere, a suicide bomber targeted a U.S.-led coalition convoy in eastern Afghanistan.
The blast in Khost province killed the bomber, said Gen. Mohammad Ayub, the provincial police chief, but there were no immediate reports of casualties among the U.S. forces.
In the south, Afghan police and soldiers thwarted an attack on a district chief's compound in fighting that killed nine militants, provincial Police Chief Sayed Agha Saqib said.
A roadside bomb later hit a police vehicle in the same district, killing five officers and wounding two, Saqib said.
A surge in fighting has killed more than 3,700 people this year, most of them insurgents, according to an AP tally of casualty figures provided by Western and Afghan officials.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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