Two lawmakers—one of them a former Taliban member—and several influential elders have joined negotiations with the hardline militia to step up pressure for the release of 22 South Korean hostages, an official said Saturday.
A South Korean presidential envoy, Baek Jong-chun, was scheduled to hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday, an official from the South Korean Embassy in Kabul said. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of embassy policy.
The Taliban has demanded the release of insurgent prisoners in exchange for the South Koreans, who were captured on July 19. One of the original 23 captives was shot to death on Wednesday.
A former Taliban commander—Abdul Salaam Rocketi, now a member of parliament—has joined the talks, said Shirin Mangal, spokesman of the Ghazni provincial governor. A second lawmaker and several respected leaders from around Qarabagh, the area in Ghazni province where the hostages were taken, have also joined, he said.
“Today we are hopeful to get a good result because more and more elders have gathered from Ghazni,” said Qarabagh police chief Khwaja Mohammad. “I hope the Taliban will listen to these negotiations now because they are neutral people—elders from around Qarabagh district.”
A special South Korean presidential envoy met with Afghan officials in Kabul on Saturday on a mission to secure the release of 22 South Koreans seized by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan 10 days ago, South Korean officials in Seoul said.
Baek Jong-chun, national security adviser to President Roh Moo-hyun, arrived in the Afghan capital on Friday as negotiations to free the hostages dragged on. South Korean officials said the envoy was seeking a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“Though no schedule has been set, we expect Baek to meet the Afghan president today,” an official in Seoul said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
South Korean government sources say Baek is expected to ask the Afghan president to be flexible on the demands by the kidnappers and to convey Roh’s request to make the release of the hostages a top priority.
“Sending a presidential special envoy is the best possible choice the president can make at this point,” South Korean presidential spokesman Chun Ho-seon told reporters on Friday.
Meanwhile, South Korea mourns the slain pastor:
South Korea is mourning the death of Bae Hyung-kyu, a devout Christian pastor who led the group of 22 church volunteers currently being held hostage by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
Family members held a memorial service in Jeju, south of the South Korean capital Seoul, days after Bae’s body was found on Wednesday with 10 bullet holes in the head, chest and stomach. Bae turned 42 that day and is survived by a wife and 9-year-old daughter.
Kim Hee-yeon, widow of the slain South Korean pastor, said at a news conference on Friday that she explained to her daughter that Dad received a huge gift from God on his birthday and returned to heaven.
A pastor for about six years, Bae was one of the founders of the 5,000-membered Saemmul Church in Bundang, just south of Seoul, and was the oldest of the group sent by the church to Afghanistan. He led services for younger members of the congregation, the vast majority of whom are under 40.
“Our pastor who was killed was a very good Christian and a very peaceful person,” said Park Eun-jo, senior pastor at Saemmul Church.