No more talks on Korean hostages: Taleban spokesman

July 30, 2007 - 0:0

KABUL (Reuters) -- Taleban rebels on Sunday ruled out more talks with the Afghan government over their remaining 22 South Korean hostages and pressed for the release of militant prisoners as the only way out of the crisis.

An Afghan team that was supposed to have held more negotiations with the Taleban on Saturday could not reach the group because of security concerns in Ghazni province, provincial sources said. The team hoped to persuade the insurgents to free without condition the Christian volunteers they kidnapped from a bus 10 days ago in Ghazni, south of Kabul. A deputy interior minister on Saturday told Reuters that force might be used if talks fail. Qari Mohammad Yousuf, a Taleban spokesman, on Sunday warned against use of force and pressed for the freedom of the rebel prisoners as the main condition for the release of the Koreans. ""There is no need for further talks. We have given the government a list of Taleban prisoners who should be released and that is our main demand,"" he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. ""The government needs to deliberate on it and if it wants to use force, then it will jeopardize the lives of the hostages and the Taleban will resist till the last gasp of their breath,"" he added, but did not issue any new deadline. The kidnappers killed the leader of the group on Wednesday, but several Taleban deadlines have passed without the rebels carrying out their threat to kill the rest of the hostages. Eighteen of the remaining hostages are female and are being held in small groups at different locations. A South Korean special envoy was expected to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai to try to speed up the hostages' release. After coming under harsh criticism for freeing five Taleban prisoners in exchange for the release of an Italian hostage in March, Karzai ruled out any deal with the Taleban. The Taleban are still holding one German and four of his Afghan colleagues who were abducted from a neighboring province a day before the Koreans. Another German seized alongside them was later found dead with gunshot wounds. The abduction of the Koreans is the largest kidnapping of foreigners by the Taleban since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the movement's radical Islamic government in 2001. It comes amid increase of violence in the past 18 months, the bloodiest period since Taleban's removal.