From the Chosun Ilbo:

Taliban kidnappers on Tuesday confirmed they agreed with the Korean
government to free all 19 Korean hostages held in Afghanistan, ending a
40-day crisis that has shaken Korea. The two sides reached agreement in
a fourth round of face-to-face negotiations at the Afghan Red Crescent
office in Ghazni Province on Tuesday afternoon.

Presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon said the Taliban agreed to
release all remaining Korean captives on condition that Korea withdraws
its forces in Afghanistan within this year and bans missionary
activities by Korean Christians in the Islamic country.

This handout file photo released from Sammul Church shows the group of
South Koreans posing for a memorial photo before leaving for
Afghanistan at the international airport in Incheon July 13, 2007.

Taliban negotiator Qari Mohammad Bashir said the two sides reached
agreement when the Taliban withdrew its demand for the release of
Taliban prisoners in exchange for Korean hostages while Korea promised
to pull its troops out of Afghanistan by late this year and compel
Korean missionaries leave the central Asian country by late this month,
according to Pajhwok Afghan News. However, there was speculation of
other, under-the-table agreements. Asked about a prisoner swap the
kidnappers had earlier demanded, the spokesman simply said, “In
consideration of the Afghan government’s position, the Korean
government proposed a feasible method to the Taliban and has been
negotiating sincerely” with the Islamist group.

Despite the agreement, it was not clear when the captives will
be freed and handed over to the Korean government. Cheon said that
having the hostages returned will take time and they will not be freed
immediately. Korean negotiators will discuss the release procedures
with the kidnappers, he added.

An unidentified Korean representative talks with media along with
Taliban representative Qari Bashir at the Afghan Red Crescent Society
of Ghazni province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday. /AP

Qarabagh District Taliban commander Abdullah Jan, who led the
abduction, told the Chosun Ilbo’s local correspondent Rahimullah
Yusufzai after the conclusion of the negotiations that the release will
hopefully start Wednesday. Jan told CBS News it was possible a small
group — three or four hostages, likely women — would be released
later Tuesday, but said all of the captives should be freed in “the
next two or three days.”

The government will seek additional negotiations with the
kidnappers to free the hostages as soon as possible. The militants
abducted 23 Korean Christian volunteers on July 19. On July 25, they
killed the Rev. Bae Hyung-kyu and on July 31 Shim Sung-min. They later
released released two women hostages.


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