S Korean hostages 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Taliban operatives released eight South Korean hostages on Wednesday, the first of 19 captives scheduled to be freed under a deal struck between the insurgents and the South Korean government.
The hostages were released into the care of officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross at two separate locations in central Afghanistan close to the city of Ghazni.
The first group of three women were released in the village of Qala-e-Kazi. Several hours later, four women and one man were released in a desert close to Shah Baz.
None of the eight said anything to reporters.
The three women arrived in Qala-E-Kazi in a single car, their heads covered with red and green shawls. Red Cross officials quickly took the three to their vehicles before leaving for the office of the Afghan Red Crescent in Ghazni, witnesses said.
In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Hee-yong said the three, who he identified as Ahn Hye-jin, Lee Jung-ran and Han Ji-young, did not appear to have any health problems.
To secure the release of the church workers, South Korea reaffirmed a pledge it made well before the hostage crisis began to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. Seoul also said it would prevent South Korean Christian missionaries from working in the country, something it already promised to do.
The Taliban apparently backed down on earlier demands for a prisoner exchange.
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 group executed two male hostages, and they released two women earlier this month.
The insurgents have said they will free all the hostages, whom they are holding in different locations, over the next few days.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, welcomed the news of a deal and called for all the hostages to be freed quickly.
He said he 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.
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 facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.