Police discovered the body of a second South Korean hostage yesterday slain by the Taliban in central Afghanistan, while relatives of the remaining captives pleaded for the US to help to resolve the crisis.
The Taliban, meanwhile, threatened to kill more hostages if their demands that imprisoned militants be set free were not met by the latest of many deadlines -- by noon today.
The dead man's body, dressed in Western clothing and with glasses, was found on the side of the road at daybreak in the village of Arizo Kalley in Andar District, some 10km west of Ghazni City, said Abdul Rahim Deciwal, the chief administrator in the area.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry identified the victim as 29-year Shim Sung-min, a former information technology worker who volunteered with a South Korean church group on an aid mission to Afghanistan.
A purported Taliban spokesman claimed the militia killed the South Korean hostage on Monday evening because the Afghan government had failed to release imprisoned insurgents.
The victim was wearing white trousers, a blue striped shirt and flip-flops, a reporter said. He appeared to have a gunshot wound to the right temple.
Police lifted the body from the side of the road and put it on a blanket and into the back of a waiting police truck. The victim's face was covered in blood, as was the ground beneath him. Two policemen covered the bloody patches on the roadside with dirt.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, the Taliban spokesman, said senior Taliban leaders had decided to kill the captive because the government had not met their demands to trade prisoners for the Christian volunteers, who were in their 13th day of captivity yesterday.
"The Kabul and [South] Korean governments are lying and cheating. They did not meet their promise of releasing Taliban prisoners," Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The Taliban commanders set a new deadline of noon today.
"If the Kabul government does not release the Taliban prisoners, then we will kill after 12 o'clock -- we are going to kill the Korean hostages," Ahmadi said. "It might be a man or a woman ... It might be one. It might be two, four. It might be all of them."
The Afghan government said the issue of releasing militant prisoners was not an option.
"We are not going to discuss the details, releasing or not releasing of criminals in exchange for the hostages," said Humayun Hamidzada, spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "We are doing everything we can to secure their release."
In South Korea, the dead man's father, Shim Jin-pyo, said his wife collapsed when the family heard their son was the Taliban's latest victim.
The relatives of the hostages appealed for support from the US and the international community to resolve the hostage standoff.
"In particular, the families want the United States to disregard political interests and give more active support to save the 21 innocent lives," said Kim Jung-ja, mother of one of the remaining captives.