Source AP ©

Taliban to release 8 of 19 Korean hostages

Taliban militants said Wednesday they will release up to eight of the 19 South Korean hostages they are holding, a day after reaching a deal with South Korean officials to end the six-weeks-long hostage drama.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, welcomed the news of a deal and called for all the hostages to be freed quickly.

Mullah Basheer, a Taliban representative in the Tuesday talks held in Ghazni province where a group of 23 South Koreans were kidnapped on July 19, said militants will "hopefully" free five to eight captives on Wednesday, including one man. He did not give further details.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said late Tuesday that the South Koreans - mostly females in their 20s and 30s - would be freed "in the coming days" with the involvement of tribal elders, who would act as go-betweens.

The captives are believed to be held in several different locations, and Ahmadi said that it might take several days to free them all.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, told a news conference Tuesday he had used "all possible efforts" as secretary-general to help obtain the release of the hostages, talking to leaders in Afghanistan and the region who might have influence.

"I welcome that news that both the Korean government and Taliban representatives have agreed to release the remaining 19 hostages," he said.

"I do hope that they will be released as soon as possible," he added.

To secure the hostages' release, South Korea reaffirmed a pledge to withdraw its 200 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and prevent South Korean Christian missionaries from working there, officials said. The Taliban apparently backed down on earlier demands for a prisoner exchange.

The Tuesday deal was made in face-to-face talks between Taliban negotiators and South Korean diplomats in the central Afghan city of Ghazni. The Afghan government was not party to the negotiations, which were mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Taliban originally kidnapped 23 hostages as they traveled by bus from Kabul to the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar on July 19. In late July, the militants executed two male hostages, and they released two women earlier this month.

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