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S. Korean Envoy in Afghanistan for Hostage Talks

Relatives of the kidnapped South Koreans in Afghanistan react after watching a television news program about their loved ones on Thursday.
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Relatives of the kidnapped South Koreans in Afghanistan react after watching a television news program about their loved ones on Thursday.
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South Korean newspapers' front pages carry stories and pictures of Bae Hyung-kyu, the South Korean hostage killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Jung Yeon-Je / Getty Images
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Getty Images
South Korean newspapers' front pages carry stories and pictures of Bae Hyung-kyu, the South Korean hostage killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

A South Korean envoy headed to Afghanistan on Thursday, hoping to save the lives of 22 of his country's citizens held captive by the Taliban after the kidnappers executed one of the hostages.

On Wednesday, authorities found the bullet-riddled body of 42-year-old Bae Hyung-kyu in Qarabagh district of Ghazni province, where the South Koreans were abducted July 19. Bae, a deputy pastor and a founder of Saemmul Presbyterian Church, was killed on his birthday, church officials said.

Reports on Wednesday from Western and Afghan officials indicating that eight of the other hostages might have been released appeared to be unfounded, South Korean presidential spokesman Chun Ho-sun said.

The confusion added to the uncertainty, with a local police chief saying the negotiations were proving difficult because the kidnappers could not agree on their demands.

"One says let's exchange them for my relative, the others say let's release the women and yet another wants a deal for money," said Khwaja Mohammad Sidiqi, a local police chief in Qarabagh. "They have got problems among themselves."

Bae was found with 10 bullet holes in his head, chest and stomach, said Abdul Rahman, a police officer. Another Afghan police official, who asked not to be identified, said militants told him the hostage was sick and couldn't walk and was therefore shot.

Bae previously had suffered from lung disease and had recovered but was still taking medicine, a church official told The Associated Press, asking not to be named.

His mother, 68-year-old Lee Chang-suk, broke into tears as she watched the televised government announcement of her son's death.

"I never thought it possible," she said from her hometown on the southern island of Jeju, according to Yonhap news agency.

The kidnappers "will be held accountable for taking the life of a Korean citizen," Baek Jong-chun, South Korea's chief presidential secretary for security affairs, said in a statement before departing for Afghanistan to consult with top Afghan officials on how to secure the release of the remaining captives.

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, told the AP that all 22 hostages were well, but claimed that Afghan authorities were not allowing South Korean officials to negotiate directly with the militants.

Ghazni police chief Ali Shah Ahmadzai said that the Afghan negotiators were speaking with the Taliban over the phone, in a hope of securing the hostages release.

"We will not use force against the militants to free the hostages," he said. "The best way in this case is dialogue."

Ahmadzai said he was hopeful about reaching "some sort of deal for the release of six up to eight people" later Thursday, without giving an explanation for his optimism.

An Afghan official involved in the negotiations earlier said a large sum of money would be paid to free eight of the hostages. The official also spoke on condition he not be identified, citing the matter's sensitivity. No other officials would confirm this account.

Foreign governments are suspected to have paid for the release of hostages in Afghanistan in the past, but have either kept it quiet or denied it outright. The Taliban at one point demanded that 23 jailed militants be freed in exchange for the Koreans.

The South Koreans, including 18 women, were kidnapped while on a bus trip through Ghazni province on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, Afghanistan's main thoroughfare.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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