Video: Major offensive on Pakistan-Afghan border

updated 8/14/2007 8:48:09 PM ET 2007-08-15T00:48:09

Taliban leaders and South Korean officials continued negotiations by telephone over the fate of the remaining 19 hostages Tuesday, but no new face-to-face talks were planned, the international Red Cross said.

Two Korean women kidnapped by the Taliban in mid-July were freed Monday on a desert road outside Ghazni into Red Cross custody, the first significant breakthrough in the hostage drama. Two men among the Korean captives were executed by gunfire in late July.

The South Korean Embassy said the two women were transferred from the U.S. base at Ghazni to a safe place in “our care,” and that they were in good condition, awaiting a flight home “very soon.”

Franz Rauchenstein, an official with the International Committee of the Red Cross, said officials were ready to host more talks at the office of the Afghan Red Crescent in Ghazni, but that the two sides were talking by telephone for now. Two Taliban leaders and South Korean officials met at the office for direct talks Friday and Saturday.

“The parties are in talks (over the phone) by themselves,” Rauchenstein said. “We stand ready to play the role of neutral intermediary for the release of the next 19 hostages and we are urging the two parties to make it a short process in the interest of the hostages.”

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the two Taliban negotiators are authorized by their leadership to change and reduce the list of prisoners they want freed in exchange for the remaining South Korean hostages.

A South Korean Embassy official said its delegates in Ghazni are “still maintaining negotiation channels” with the Taliban leaders, but he declined to give further details of the ongoing negotiations.

He said the two women are in the care of South Koreans in Afghanistan, and authorities are now arranging flights to take them home.

“They got medical checks, and nothing serious happened,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of embassy policy. “They are in good condition.”

19 hostages still held
Last week’s talks apparently led to the release of the two women, who on Monday were driven to a U.S. base in Ghazni. The U.S. military refused to release any details about the women.

It was likely that the women were flown to the U.S. base at Bagram, where the South Korean military runs a hospital.

A spokesman for the hard-line militants said they released the women as a show of goodwill because negotiations were going well. Qari Yousef Ahmadi also reiterated the militants’ demand that Taliban prisoners be released in exchange for the remaining 19 hostages.

Ghazni Gov. Marajudin Pathan, who in the past has suggested the hostage standoff could be solved with a ransom payment, ruled out a prisoner swap.

A German kidnapped on July 18 in Wardak province said Monday in a telephone interview orchestrated by his captors that he is sick and the Taliban have threatened to kill him.

The man, identifying himself as Rudolf Blechschmidt, asked the Afghan and German governments to try to resolve the issue, saying the Taliban wanted to speak with Afghan officials in Kabul.

Another German taken hostage with Blechschmidt, Ruediger Diedrich, 43, was found dead of gunshot wounds on July 21.

A 'brotherly nation'
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad made his first-ever visit to Afghanistan, calling Iran’s eastern neighbor a “brotherly nation” whose stability is paramount for the region.

Asked if Iran is supplying weapons to the Taliban by a reporter from Voice of America, a U.S.-funded outlet, Ahmedinejad laughed and said the United States doesn’t want Afghanistan and Iran to be friends.

“The same allegation are made in Iraq. They are saying that they discover some weapons,” Ahmedinejad said at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “What is the reason why they are saying such things? Iran is a big country. I have serious doubts about this issue.”

Ahmedinejad’s trip comes a week after President Bush said during a news conference with Karzai last week in the United States that he thought Iran was playing a destabilizing role in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have stepped up attacks the last two years.

The U.S. military has charged that Iran is supplying weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq who are fighting against U.S. troops there.

Separately, a Polish officer was killed during an attack on a military convoy in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the Polish defense minister said.

2nd Lt. Lukasz Kurowski, 28, is the first fatality among the 1,200 troops that Poland has stationed in Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission. In Iraq, Poland has reported the deaths of 21 soldiers.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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