Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 1 News List

S Korea, US agree not to use force to free hostages

AGENCIES , GHAZNI, AFGHANISTAN, AND MANILA

South Korea and the US agreed on Tuesday not to use force to free 21 Korean hostages in Afghanistan, but Afghan troops warned villagers of a possible offensive in the area where the captives are held.

The Taliban kidnapped 23 South Korean church volunteers in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, two weeks ago and have killed two of them. The hardline Islamist guerrillas have said they will kill the rest unless their jailed comrades were freed.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte met on the sidelines of a regional security forum in the Philippines yesterday.

"They agreed that both countries will not use any kind of force," a South Korean diplomat said after the meeting.

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry said army helicopters dropped leaflets in several districts of Ghazni province on Wednesday warning residents to move to secure areas to avoid casualties during an operation to be launched in the "coming weeks."

But the ministry said it was a routine operation not linked with the kidnapping.

South Korean parliamentarians left for the US to persuade it to help end the standoff.

Lawmakers hoped to speak to officials "to appeal for the quick and safe return of our people in Afghanistan," a statement said.

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