GHAZNI, Afghanistan — South Korea and relatives of 21 kidnapped Koreans appealed for U.S. help Tuesday, but Afghanistan said for the first time it will not release insurgent prisoners — the Taliban’s key demand to free the captives.
Afghan police found the body of the second hostage slain since the Christian church group was seized nearly two weeks ago; the group’s pastor was killed last week.
A purported Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, said some of the prisoners the militants want released are held at the U.S. base at Begrime — and the Al-Jazeera television network broadcast a video Tuesday reportedly of another Taliban captive, a German engineer.
The Taliban said more Koreans will die if its demands are not met by midday Wednesday. The militants have extended several previous deadlines without consequences, but killed 29-year-old Shim Sung-min on Monday after a deadline passed. His body, with a gunshot wound to the head, was found along a road in Andar district.
They were two of 23 South Koreans — 16 women and seven men — kidnapped while riding a bus July 19 on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. They are the largest group of foreign hostages taken in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that drove the Taliban from power.
Some blame the U.S.
In South Korea, relatives and a civic group pleaded for more U.S. involvement, and the president’s office used more diplomatic language to prod the Americans.
“The government is well aware of how the international community deals with these kinds of abduction cases,” the president’s office said, an apparent reference to the U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists. “But it also believes that it would be worthwhile to use flexibility in the cause of saving the precious lives of those still in captivity.”
The civic group People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy questioned what South Korea had earned for helping Washington combat terrorism. Seoul has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said there is regular contact between U.S. and South Korean officials on the standoff, but would not comment on specifics.
President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman said officials were doing “everything we can” to secure the hostages’ release, but that freeing militant prisoners was not an option.
“As a principle, we shouldn’t encourage kidnapping by accepting their demands,” said government spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.
In March, Karzai authorized freeing five captive Taliban fighters for the release of an Italian reporter, but called the trade a one-time deal. He was roundly criticized by the United States and western nations for the move.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, said eight prisoners must be released by midday Wednesday, and that some were held by the U.S. at Bagram.
“If the Kabul government does not release the Taliban prisoners, then we will kill after 12 o’clock,” Ahmadi said. “It might be a man or a woman ... It might be one. It might be two, four. It might be all of them.”
In South Korea, the slain hostage’s father, Shim Jin-pyo, described his son as “chivalrous and warmhearted,” and wondered how the Taliban “could perpetrate this horrible thing.”
Kim Jung-ja, the mother of another hostage, said the U.S. should “give more active support to save the 21 innocent lives.”
German held hostage, too?
In the minute-long video shown Tuesday on Al-Jazeera, a stocky man with graying hair stood in a rugged mountainous area surrounded by masked Taliban fighters, some of them carrying automatic rifles and RPG launchers.
The man seemed to be speaking to a camera but there was no voice in the aired footage. Al-Jazeera broadcaster said he made an appeal to the German government to secure his release. The video also showed four Afghans whom it said were kidnapped with the German.
The broadcaster did not say how it obtained the video.
Two German engineers were reported kidnapped earlier this month by the Taliban. One of them, Ruediger Diedrich, 43, died in captivity under unclear circumstances. His body has been flown back to Germany for an autopsy. German media have identified the second man only as Rudolf B.
In Germany, foreign ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger criticized the release of the video and said the ministry was pressing efforts to secure the hostage’s release.
Germany has 2,700 soldiers serving with the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.
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