Taliban ups demands for 23 Koreans (video)
( AP ) - A purported Taliban spokesman said that negotiations for the lives of 23 South Korean hostages had stalled and that militants would kill the aid workers Monday evening if the government doesn't free Taliban prisoners.
An Afghan lawmaker said the militants had upped their demands Monday, saying they wanted all insurgent prisoners in Ghazni province released in exchange for the Koreans, though Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the militia, denied that was true.Khail Mohammad Husseini, a lawmaker from Ghazni province, where the Koreans are being held, said a delegation of provincial leaders tried to meet with the kidnappers Monday but that the militants didn't show. He said the Taliban increased their demands by telephone, saying all militant prisoners in Ghazni had to be released.
Ahmadi said militants were still demanding the release of 23 Taliban prisoners but said the government hadn't signaled it was willing to do that.
"If the government won't accept these conditions, then it's difficult for the Taliban to provide security for these hostages, to provide health facilities and food," Ahmadi told The Associated Press by satellite phone. "The Taliban won't have any option but to kill the hostages."
The deputy interior minister, Abdul Khaliq, meanwhile, said Afghanistan was not prepared to make a deal "against our national interest and our constitution," though he did not explicitly rule out freeing any prisoners.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai in March authorized the release of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for a kidnapped Italian reporter, but he called the trade a one-time deal. Karzai also was criticized by the United States and European nations who felt that trade would encourage more kidnappings.
Ahmadi said Sunday that the militants were giving the Afghan and South Korean governments until 7 p.m. (10:30 a.m. EDT) Monday to respond to their demands.
Afghan elders leading the hostage negotiations met with the kidnappers Sunday and reported that the Koreans were healthy, said Khwaja Mohammad Sidiqi, the police chief of Qarabagh district in Ghazni district, where the Koreans were kidnapped Thursday while riding on a bus from Kabul to Kandahar on Afghanistan's major highway.
The Afghan military has the region surrounded in case the government decides the military should move in.
South Korea, meanwhile, banned its citizens from traveling to Afghanistan in the wake of the kidnappings, said Han Hye-jin, a Foreign Ministry official. He said Seoul also asked Kabul not to issue visas to South Koreans and block their entry into the country.
South Korea had previously asked its nationals to refrain from visiting Afghanistan, citing political instability.
Earlier, the South Korean church that the abductees attend 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 only provided medical and other volunteer aid to distressed people in the war-ravaged country.
Neither the Afghan nor Korean governments have commented on the purported Taliban trade offer. A delegation of eight Korean officials arrived in the capital of Kabul on Sunday and met with Karzai to discuss the crisis.
The 23 South Koreans, including 18 women, were working at an aid organization in Kandahar, said Sidney Serena, a political affairs officer at the South Korean Embassy in Kabul.
South Korea has about 200 troops serving with the 8,000-strong U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, largely working on humanitarian projects. They are scheduled to leave Afghanistan at the end of 2007.