Taliban Agree to Free S. Korean Hostages - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Taliban Agree to Free S. Korean Hostages

GHAZNI, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Taliban agreed Tuesday to free 19 South Korean church volunteers held hostage since July after the government in Seoul agreed to end all missionary work and keep a promise to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber attacked NATO troops helping build a bridge, killing three soldiers.

The Taliban originally seized 23 South Koreans, but have since killed two of the hostages and released two others. They had initially demanded the withdrawal of South Korean troops from the country and the release of prisoners in exchange for freeing the hostages.

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said South Korean and Taliban delegates at face-to-face talks Tuesday in the central town of Ghazni had "reached an agreement" to free the captives.

South Korean presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-sun said the deal had been reached "on the condition that South Korea withdraws troops by the end of year and South Korea suspends missionary work in Afghanistan," he said.

South Korea has already said it planned to withdraw its troops by the end of the year. Some 200 South Korean soldiers have been deployed in Afghanistan for reconstruction efforts, not combat.

"We welcome the agreement to release 19 South Koreans," said Cheon.

South Korean missionaries have been active in Afghanistan, although the hostage group's church has said those kidnapped were not involved in Christian missionary work there.

Insurgents in Afghanistan are increasingly using kidnappings of government officials or foreign aid workers as part of their campaign to overthrow the Western-backed government that took power after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. Violence in Afghanistan is running at its highest level since the Taliban ouster.

The suicide bomber approached the troops building a bridge in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing three soldiers and wounding six, NATO said. The alliance did not disclose the nationalities of the victims or the exact location of the blast. Most foreign troops in the east of the country are American.

U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops, meanwhile, killed up to 21 suspected Taliban militants in three separate clashes in southern Afghanistan, and a roadside blast killed four Afghan soldiers in the east, officials said.

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