Two female South Korean hostages kidnapped by Taliban militants last month were handed over to officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday, the first significant breakthrough in a hostage drama now more than three weeks old.
The two female aid workers, who broke down in tears after seeing the Red Cross officials, got out of a dark gray Toyota Corolla driven by an Afghan elder and into one of two waiting Red Cross SUVs.
The women did not make comment to reporters who had been alerted to the handoff location by a Taliban spokesman.
The women, who the Taliban have said are unwell, were among a group of 23 South Koreans kidnapped by Taliban militants on July 19.
The release is the first breakthrough in the hostage drama, which took a downturn late last month when two male captives were shot dead by their captors.
The two women were brought to the arranged meeting point on the side of a road in rural Ghazni Province by an Afghan named Haji Zahir, who also got into the Red Cross vehicle with the freed hostages.
The Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said on Sunday that the two women would be released in part because they were sick and because face-to-face negotiations that began on Friday were going well.
Two Taliban leaders and four South Korean officials met on Friday and Saturday for direct talks over the fate of the hostages.
Taliban leaders have demanded that 21 militant prisoners be released in exchange for the Koreans' lives, though the government has said it won't release any prisoners.
The local governor has suggested in the past that the hostage standoff would be solved with a ransom payment.