The Taliban released 12 South Korean hostages in Afghanistan on Wednesday, and another seven may be freed Thursday. A political scientist and a former CIA official discuss the challenges of negotiating with the Taliban.
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The 12 South Korean Christian aid workers were released in several groups this afternoon outside the southern Afghan city of Ghazni after a nearly six-week ordeal. Dressed in Afghan tribal wear, this group of four women and one man were taken into the care of the International Red Cross. Earlier, a trio of women had been freed.
Outside Seoul, the brother of one former hostage rejoiced upon seeing his sister.
LEE JUNG-HOON, Relative of Kidnapped South Korean (through translator): The release of the first three people include my sister. I talked to our parents on the phone, and they cried and said their daughter is coming back alive.
The initial group of 23 South Koreans was captured on July 19th en route from the capital, Kabul, to the southern city of Kandahar. The group's leader and another man were executed at the end of July. Two female captives were released earlier this month.
The release of the remaining 19 captives was secured yesterday, after extensive negotiations mediated by the Red Cross between South Korean diplomats and the Taliban, which controls large swaths of southern Afghanistan. The Afghan government had no role in the talks.
The Taliban had demanded after the abduction that the Afghan government release one Taliban prisoner for every South Korean; that demand was later rescinded. The final deal included a reaffirmation of the South Korean government's previously announced pledge to pull its contingent of 200 troops out of Afghanistan.
The Taliban also gained assurances from the South Korean government that it would ban Christian missionaries from traveling to Afghanistan. The hostages and their families had long insisted they were aid workers, not missionaries.
At the United Nations today, the secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, himself a former South Korean foreign minister, praised the release.
BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General:
I am pleased to hear the news, and I welcome the news that both the Korean government and Taliban representatives have agreed to release the remaining 19 hostages. It must have been a very difficult ordeal for those hostages, as well as the people of the Republic of Korea.