Taliban deadline on South Korean hostages appears more serious'

A second execution Tuesday has heightened international debate about how to deal with kidnappers.

Monday's killing of a second Korean hostage held by Taliban militants in Afghanistan has sparked international debate about how to negotiate with hostage takers. In exchange for the freedom of the 21 surviving Korean Christian aid workers, their captors have demanded the release by Wednesday afternoon (Korean time) of several Taliban prisoners held in an Afghan jail. As South Korean and Afghan officials work together to broker a deal with the militants, the international community, especially Germany, is debating whether caving to their demand might encourage future abductions.

Authorities discovered Shim Sung-min's body in the central Afghanistan province of Ghazni on Tuesday. According to Marajudin Pathan, the governor of Ghazni province, the Taliban breached an agreement reached with the government to refrain from further executions until Wednesday noon, reports The Times, a London-based newspaper. The militants, for their part, accuse the Afghan government of ignoring previous deadlines.

"We set several deadlines and the Afghan Government did not pay attention to our deadlines," Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman, said. "Finally, tonight at 8.30 [local time] we killed one of the Koreans named Sung Sin with AK47 gunshots."

Al Jazeera received an unauthenticated hostage video from the militants showing some of the remaining 21 hostages, all women and wearing headscarves. The women appeared to be in good health. James Bays, an Al Jazeera correspondent in Afghanistan, said that although there have been numerous deadline extensions since the group was first kidnapped on July 17, the latest deadline appears to be "serious this time." He also added that Afghan security forces had increased their presence on the road where the Koreans were kidnapped.

The Associated Press reports that Mr. Ahmadi, the Taliban spokesman, said that if the Afghan government did not meet the new deadline of Wednesday at noon, they would start killing the remaining hostages. "It might be a man or a woman ... It might be one. It might be two, four. It might be all of them," he said.

While Korean officials say they will try every "possible means" to protect the hostages, Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports that the Seoul government issued a statement on Tuesday saying that securing a hostages-for-prisoners deal was beyond its ability. The statement also called on the US and other prominent nations to consider their policy of not negotiating with terrorists and consider exerting their influence over the Afghan policymakers.

"The kidnappers are demanding the release of prisoners in Afghan jails in exchange for Korean nationals. But this demand is not within the power of the Korean government because it doesn't have any effective means to influence the decisions of the Afghan government," said the statement.
... "The government is well aware of how the international community deals with these kinds of abduction cases. But it also believes that it would be worthwhile to use flexibility in the cause of saving the precious lives of those still in captivity and is appealing the international community to do so," said the statement.

While Afghan President Hamid Karzai is facing pressure to save the kidnapped Koreans, he was criticized in March for freeing five Taliban members in exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist. Such criticism of past prisoner swaps may indicate his reluctance to meet the captors demands. The British Broadcasting Corp. reports that "a delegation of tribal elders, mullahs and members of parliament has been negotiating with the Taliban for the last few days to help secure the hostages' release."

According to China's Xinhua News Agency the recent killing of the second hostage highlights a wave of kidnappings that has plagued Afghanistan this year. In an overview of the most prominent kidnappings in which 49 hostages were taken, 17 were freed and five were killed. The fate of six is unexplained and the 21 South Koreans are still being held.

In March, NATO's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said he would initiate talks on creating a unified policy about how to deal with kidnappers. But national governments have taken up the matter as well. The German government, in particular, has begun debating how it should handle kidnapping cases involving its citizens. To date, a number of Germans have been abducted in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike the US and Britain, Germany has paid ransoms to free hostages. Yet, The Guardian reports that an unnamed high-ranking security expert from the German interior ministry told a German newspaper that the ransom money is used to buy weapons that "kill our soldiers in Afghanistan." Now the German government is considering taking a hard-line policy of nonnegotiation with terrorists.

"Generally speaking the UK policy has been not to pay and not to facilitate payment, and that has been quite effective in making kidnapping a non-profitable industry in the UK," said Roy Ramm, a former Metropolitan police commander, now an independent security consultant. "Internationally, though, UK companies have paid up and they continue to do so in environments where police deliver a very low standard service."
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