Taliban: Govt has offered safe passage to negotiators

The Taliban today said the Afghan government has promised safe passage to two top Taliban leaders so they could meet with South Korean negotiators to discuss the fate of 21 Korean hostages.

The Taliban today said the Afghan government has promised safe passage to two top Taliban leaders so they could meet with South Korean negotiators to discuss the fate of 21 Korean hostages.

The government did not immediately confirm the claim by a Taliban spokesman.

The spokesman said the safety guarantee was contained in a letter from the government.

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said two members of the Taliban’s top council – Mullah Bashir and Mullah Nasorullah – would reach the city of Ghazni “soon” for talks, possibly to be held at the governor’s house.

He said the government in Kabul had given the Taliban a written safety guarantee for the two officials’ lives.

Ahmdi also said the Taliban would not kill any of the 21 remaining South Korean hostages until the face-to-face meetings have been held.

Two men among the group of 23 South Koreans kidnapped on July 19 have already been killed.

The captors have repeatedly threatened to kill more of the Koreans if their demands to release Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government and the US military are not met.

The Afghan government has said it will not release prisoners, because doing so could encourage more kidnappings.

So far, there has been no sign of a breakthrough between the Taliban and Afghan officials and local tribal elders.

The South Korean government has issued guidelines to its aid organisations telling them to leave Afghanistan by the end of the month for safety reasons, a South Korean Embassy official said.

Last month, the government banned its citizens from travelling to Afghanistan.

Ahmadi said the departure of South Korean aid workers would move forward negotiations with the Taliban.

“The pulling out of Korean aid workers will have an effect on our negotiation process because pulling out of Koreans from Afghanistan is part of our demand. It will have a positive effect,” he said without elaborating.

In South Korea, a spokesman for the hostages’ families said on Friday the mothers of several hostages – five women and a translator – will travel to the emirate of Dubai next week to seek help from the Arab world in securing their loved ones’ release.

“The reason why we are sending women, especially mothers, to Dubai is that Islamic culture has more sympathy for women,” said the spokesman, Cha Sung-min.

The 23 South Koreans were abducted in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province as they travelled by bus from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar.

Afghan authorities say talks with the Taliban, who have demanded the release of Taliban prisoners, are the best way to resolve the problem.

The captives – volunteers from a church group who planned to do health work in Afghanistan – include 16 women and five men.

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