Afghans say may use force if hostage talks fail
( Reuters ) - Afghan mediators on Saturday were attempting to hold more talks with Taliban rebels to seek the release of their remaining 22 Korean hostages but may use force if the talks fail, a senior official said.
"We believe in the talks and if dialogue fails then we will resort to other means," Munir Mangal, a deputy interior minister told Reuters. When asked if that meant use of force, he replied: "Certainly".
Mangal also leads a government team tasked to secure the release of the South Korean Christian volunteers kidnapped by Taliban insurgents more than a week ago.
He said mediators included Islamic clergy who were trying to persuade the Taliban to free the hostages without conditions.
He also ruled out bowing to the Taliban demand to free insurgent captives held by Kabul.
"We are trying to finish this work through understanding without any conditions," he said.
The Taliban have set a series of deadlines for the Afghan government to agree to free rebel prisoners and killed the leader of the South Korean church group on Wednesday, but Taliban spokesmen could not be immediately reached on Saturday.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, said on Friday the group would not issue any further deadlines over the hostages as he said Kabul had given assurances it would release Taliban prisoners as part of an exchange deal.
The Taliban seized the 23 South Koreans from a bus on the main highway south from Kabul in the province of Ghazni.
South Korea's chief presidential national security adviser, Baek Jong-chun, is in Afghanistan to aid efforts to free the hostages.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged not to swap prisoners for hostages after being criticised for releasing five Taliban from jail in March in exchange for an Italian reporter.
But the president and ministers have remained silent throughout the latest hostage ordeal.
One German and four Afghans snatched separately are also still being held hostage by the Taliban.
The past 18 months has seen rising violence in Afghanistan, with daily clashes between Taliban insurgents and Afghan and foreign troops.