Taliban operatives released three South Korean hostages on Wednesday, the first of 19 captives scheduled to be freed under a deal between the insurgents and the South Korean government. The three, all women, were first handed to tribal leaders, who took them to an agreed location where officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross picked them up. An Afghan government minister, however, criticized Seoul for the terms of the deal, in which it reiterated an existing commitment to withdraw its 200 troops from the country before the end of the year. "One has to say that this release under these conditions will make our difficulties in Afghanistan even bigger," the country's commerce minister, Amin Farhang, said in an interview with Germany's Bayerischer Rundfunk radio. "We fear that this decision could become a precedent. The Taliban will continue trying to take hostages to attain their aims in Afghanistan."