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Religious delegation to persuade Taliban to free hostages

By Xinhua

Ghazni (Afghanistan) : As the mystery continues to shroud the fate of the kidnapped South Koreans, a delegation of Afghan religious leaders is meeting Taliban commanders later Saturday to persuade them to free the hostages.

Muslim leaders from nearly all districts in the central Ghazni province would go to Qarabagh, where the hostages are being held, to convince the Taliban that kidnapping the innocent is against Islam and Afghan culture, and it should release all South Korean hostages, Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Munir Mohammad Mangal said.

The delegation would also take medicine for the hostages, as some of them are believed to be unwell, he added.

The Afghan government is trying to solve the crisis through peaceful means, Mangal asserted.

However, he insisted that if all peaceful ways to settle the issue are closed the government would resort to any means "possible".

A purported Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told Xinhua from an undisclosed place that no progress was made in talks over the hostages Friday, and their lives would be "in danger" if the negotiations would go on like this.

The Taliban Friday again extended the deadline but did not say when the deadline would expire.

One of the 23 hostages was killed Wednesday, whose body police recovered later.

Ahmadi said the hostage was killed, as Afghan authorities did not show enough sincerity in the talks and the Taliban also wanted to press the South Korean government to accept their demands.

The 23 South Koreans were kidnapped by Taliban militants from Ghazni province on July 19.

Afghan and the US-led coalition forces have cordoned off suspected Taliban hideouts in Qarabagh district to secure the release of the hostages.

Ahmadi has threatened that militants would execute all hostages if the troops recklessly carried out a storm.

They have been seeking the withdrawal of 200 South Korean troops from this country, a demand the government has already rejected saying the soldiers would be pulled out at the end of 2007 as scheduled.

Taliban militants have carried out kidnappings in this country over the past two years frequently killing some of them.