South Korean officials have made direct contact with at least one of 21 South Korean hostages in Afghanistan, an official said Monday, as the Afghan and U.S. governments refuse to swap Taliban prisoners for hostages.
"During a telephone call between our officials at the (Korean) embassy in Afghanistan and the Taliban on Saturday, our officials were allowed to speak to one of the hostages," an official at the South Korean Foreign Ministry told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official refused to identify who the hostage was or what they had discussed, citing safety concerns.
A self-claimed commander of the Taliban, who declined to identify himself, later told Yonhap News Agency that the militants had allowed three female hostages to speak with South Korean officials in Korean.
Several hostages have been allowed to be interviewed by various news outlets, but only in English or a local Afghan dialect, apparently because the kidnappers feared the hostages could give away their whereabouts or other sensitive information.
"The reason we made this exception and let them speak in Korean was to show our sincerity toward the South Korean government," the commander told Yonhap.
The Taliban militants have been demanding South Korean officials talk to them directly since the Afghan government refused to release Taliban prisoners in exchange for the freedom of the South Korean hostages.
Twenty-three South Koreans from a church group were seized on July 19 while traveling to the southern city of Kandahar on an aid mission. Two hostages, including the 42-year-old leader of the group, Bae Hyung-kyu, have been shot to death.
In separate interviews by phone over the weekend with Yonhap through a local source working for the agency, two female hostages said the hostages were in a desperate condition and two were seriously ill.
One of the hostages, who did not identify herself, said they are being kept in separate groups.
Seoul earlier tried to deliver medical supplies and food to the hostages through Afghan officials in negotiation with the Taliban and tribal leaders who have access to the militants, but the militant group refused to accept the goods, an official here said Sunday.
An Afghan doctor, however, said that his team had dropped off about US$1,200 worth of antibiotics, pain killers and other medicine on Sunday in an area of desert in Ghazni Province as instructed by the Taliban, Reuters reported.
South Korea is hoping to meet face-to-face with the Taliban militants to negotiate the terms for the hostages' release, but the sides have yet to agree on the venue for the meeting.
A meeting may help South Korea understand what the kidnappers really want, but many here believe there will be little progress if the Taliban continues to demand the release of Taliban prisoners held in Afghan and U.S. jails.
Negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban have stalled, as Kabul refused to free the jailed Taliban fighters.
Washington also has ruled out making a deal with the militants, who allegedly maintain links with the international terrorist group Al-Qaeda. SEOUL, Aug. 6 (Yonhap News)