Efforts to save the lives of South Koreans being held by Afghanistan’s hardline Taliban militia took on new urgency Tuesday after the rebels said they had killed a second hostage.
The hardline Islamic insurgents also warned that more would die if the government did not meet their demand to free Taliban prisoners in its jails.
A spokesman said a male hostage, among a group of 23 mostly female Christians captured on July 19, was shot dead late Monday after two deadlines that day had expired.
The Taliban’s claim could not be immediately confirmed. Police were dispatched to search for the body in an area of the southern province of Ghazni where a Taliban spokesman said the corpse had been dumped.
The hostage would be the second killed by the militants, who last week shot dead the leader of the Christian group — a 42-year-old pastor.
“We set several deadlines and the Afghan government did not pay attention to our deadlines,” Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP late Monday.
The hardline Islamic militia has been demanding the release of Taliban fighters in Afghan jails, a demand government negotiators said was not up for discussion.
“Finally tonight (Monday) at 8:30 we killed one of the Koreans named Sung Sin with AK-47 gun shots,” Ahmadi said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
He said the body had been left in Ghazni’s Qarabagh area, about 140 kilometres (90 miles) south of Kabul, where the pastor’s bullet-riddled body was found on Wednesday last week.
The group had not set a new deadline in the standoff, he said. But, “If the government does not care about demands, we will start killing more.”
South Korean media said the latest victim was believed to be 29-year-old Shim Sung-Min, but the country’s officials were still trying to confirm the reported killing.
“If confirmed true, it is an intolerable act of barbarity,” South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-Soo told a cabinet meeting. “The government must use all possible means to secure the safe return of the remaining hostages.”
Shim’s 62-year-old father Shim Jin-Pyo, his face creased with anxiety, told reporters: “I’m still waiting for the government’s official announcement. I just hope all the 22 kidnapped people will come back safely.”
His wife Kim Mi-Ok burst into tears and collapsed, shouting: “Save my son! I cannot live without him.”
The Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera ran footage late Monday of what it said was the hostages, with women shown seated, wearing Islam-style headscarves and looking weakened.
The South Korean evangelical church group, mostly in their 20s and 30s, was captured in Qarabagh while travelling by bus on a key highway from the troubled southern city of Kandahar, where they had officially been on an aid mission.
Government-appointed negotiators admitted earlier that talks to free the Christian group had so far failed.
The rebels had also refused a government demand to release the 16 female captives on the grounds it was against Islamic and Afghan custom to take women as prisoners and hostages, negotiator Mahmood Gailani said.
President Hamid Karzai ruled out releasing prisoners in exchange for militant captives after five were freed in March in exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist. Two Afghans who were with the reporter were beheaded.
The government was widely criticised for the deal, which observers said increased risks for foreigners.
The Taliban has said it is also holding a German engineer, kidnapped in Wardak province near Kabul a day before the South Koreans. It has also demanded the release of prisoners to save his life.