Afghans may use force if hostage talks fail

 GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A female hostage among the remaining 22 Koreans held by Taliban fighters appealed on Saturday for a speedy end to their ordeal, as a senior Afghan official said force may be used to free them if talks fail.

The woman, one of 18 female hostages among the South Korean Christian volunteers kidnapped in Afghanistan more than a week ago, spoke to Reuters on the mobile phone of a Taliban fighter.

“We are tired and being moved from one location to another,” she said in broken Dari, one of the main languages in Afghanistan.

“We are kept in separate groups and are not aware of each other. We ask the Taliban and the government to release us,” she said. Pronunciation of her name could not be understood by a Reuters reporter who spoke to her.

Earlier Munir Mangal, a deputy interior minister, said negotiators were attempting to hold more talks with the Taliban.

“We believe in the talks and if dialogue fails then we will resort to other means,” he told Reuters. When asked if that meant use of force, he replied: “Certainly.”

Mangal also leads a government team tasked to secure the release of the South Koreans.

He said mediators included Islamic clergy who were trying to persuade the Taliban to free the hostages without conditions.

He also ruled out bowing to the Taliban demand to free insurgent captives held by Kabul.

“We are trying to finish this work through understanding without any conditions,” he said.

SERIES OF DEADLINES

The Taliban have set a series of deadlines for the Afghan government to agree to free rebel prisoners and killed the leader of the South Korean church group on Wednesday, but Taliban spokesmen could not be immediately reached on Saturday.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, said on Friday the group would not issue any further deadlines over the hostages as he said Kabul had given assurances it would release Taliban prisoners as part of an exchange deal.

The spokesman has accused the government of “killing time and playing tricks.”

The Taliban seized the 23 South Koreans from a bus on the main highway south from Kabul in the province of Ghazni.

South Korea’s chief presidential national security adviser, Baek Jong-chun, is in Afghanistan to aid efforts to free the hostages.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pledged not to swap prisoners for hostages after being criticized for releasing five Taliban from jail in March in exchange for an Italian reporter.

But the president and ministers have remained silent throughout the latest hostage ordeal.

One German and four Afghans snatched separately are also still being held hostage by the Taliban.

The past 18 months has seen rising violence in Afghanistan, with daily clashes between Taliban insurgents and Afghan and foreign troops.

(With additional reporting by Mirwais Afghan in KANDAHAR)

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