Despite Talks Between Militants and Seoul Envoy, No Breakthrough in Sight
Health workers pose for a photo in front of their car before leaving their office toward Ghanzi province, as they attempt to reach the South Kroean hostages to treat them in Kabul, Friday. But Taliban denied their access to the hostages for security reason. / AP-Yonhap
By Yoon Won-sup with Emal Pashtunyar in Kabul
KABUL _ Despite Taliban's telephonic talks with the Korean delegation, no breakthrough was made in talks to release the remaining Korean hostages Friday night. The Taliban, which took the 21 Koreans hostage in Afghanistan, denied medical team's access to sick hostages for security reasons though six Kabul doctors arrived at a site where captives are held.
Prospects for a dramatic breakthrough dimmed by the fact that the United States and Afghanistan ruled out any possibility of prisoners-captives swap.
The purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said that the Taliban and Korean negotiators are seeking to find a suitable place for a face-to-face talks. The Associated Islamic Press (AIP) reported that the Taliban asked the UN to guarantee their safety for the talks.
``Medical assistance and treatment will be of no use if we later kill them,'' Ahmadi told The Korea Times. ``Killing even the women is not a problem with us.''
Ahamdi confirmed that 16 out of the 21 are sick, mostly suffering from dehydration and intestinal disorders and that two females are seriously sick.
The spokesman indicated the two female hostages might die because immediate medical assistance will not be offered to them.
Ahmadi also denied a swapping deal of the two sick hostages for two Taliban prisoners.
Asked for how long they intended to keep the women if the negotiations did not work, the spokesman said they could keep them for months and years in their custody.
He said the Korean side did not ask for direct talks. It was the Taliban who offered direct negotiations. `` If they are ready for direct talks, our representatives are there and we have no problem in that,'' he added.
The Taliban continued threatening to kill the hostages, even female hostages unless their demands are met.
The foreigners, both men and women, are targeting our men, women, children and elderly from the air (referring to the NATO and Coalition forces' bombing), so we have the justification and valid grounds to kill those women, he said.
Ahmadi also denied some reports that some female Korean hostages had been shifted to bordering areas of Pakistan.
``Why should we need to shift them to Pakistan when we have a vast area under our control,'' he said.
Some newspapers and wire services, quoting sources from Kabul, reported that three female hostages have been shifted to the border areas of Pakistan, located close to the province of Paktika, which borders Ghazni Province where the Taliban kidnapped the Koreans on July 19.
Ahamdi scoffed at such reports. However, he said that they were distributed in groups of twos and threes and were under the control of different commanders in areas, which are under Taliban, control.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government said that it does not rule out the use of force to free the Korean hostages.
Richard Boucher, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for South and Central Asia, directly mentioned ``military action'' as one of options to pressure the Taliban militants.
``All pressures need to be applied to the Taliban to get them to release these hostages,'' Boucher said. ``There are things that we say, things that others say, things that are done and said within Afghan society, as well as potential military pressures.''
Boucher's remarks run counter to Foreign Minister Song Min-soon's agreement with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte Thursday that Seoul and Washington agreed to rule out any military operation to rescue the hostages.
Song reconfirmed the non-use of force with Negroponte on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila.
Concerns were raised when Afghan army units handed out leaflets Wednesday, warning civilians to move to safer areas in preparation for a military operation in Ghazni Province. But no operation has been confirmed yet.
A group of Korean lawmakers met with political leaders in Washington to urge the United States to help end the hostage crisis.
But the United States showed again its firm position that they will not accept any demands by the terrorists because acceptances could encouraged them to kidnap more innocent people.
Regarding the U.S. role, presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon said the United States is actively cooperating with Korea for the release of the hostages.
Taliban have already killed two male hostages, the leader of the Christian aid group Rev. Bae Hyun-kyu, 42, on July 25 and Shim Sung-min, 29, on July 30.