08/01/2007, 00.00
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Growing anxiety in Seoul over fate of its 21 surviving hostages

Last ultimatum expired this morning. Mediators call for an extra 48 hours but Talibans put more pressure on the Karzai government, claiming that two female hostages are seriously ill and showing a video of a German kidnapped two weeks ago. Vigil is held in Seoul asking United States to be more flexible.

Kabul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The latest ultimatum before the execution of 21 remaining South Korean hostages held by the Talibans expired at 7.30 GMT this morning. Tribal leaders who are trying to mediate have called for an additional 48 hours to avoid further bloodshed after the killing of two hostages. The terrorists have not yet responded.

The hostages' desperate relatives, keeping an agonising vigil in Seoul, appealed to the US government to show more flexibility and do more to free the prisoners against the Afghan government’s manifest intention not to give in to the Talibans.

Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for president Hamid Karzai, said that as “a principle, we shouldn't encourage kidnapping by accepting their demands.”

A US State Department spokesman echoed these words saying that Washington “does not make concessions to terrorists.”

Positions are apparently irreconcilable. The Talibans want some of their members freed whilst the Afghan government won’t negotiate to avoid encouraging further abductions.

In order to get what they want the Talibans have not only turned the screw on Kabul by killing two South Korean hostages but are now saying that many of the 16 South Korean women they hold are now sick, two of whom being so ill that they might die.

The Talibans are also putting pressure by using German hostage Rudolph B., who was abducted on July 18. A videotape was released, showing him guarded by a Taliban with a rocket-propelled grenade aimed at him.

The Talibans said they would free the German national if Germany pulled its forces from Afghanistan, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already indicated that she would not negotiate with terrorists.

Meanwhile the Afghan army has launched an offensive in Ghazni province where the hostages are likely being held, but Afghan authorities have denied any tie between the two.

Instead the Afghan government has called for the unconditional release of the 16 South Korean women hostages.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference on Tuesday added its weight to the calls for the release of the South Koreans, saying the act of kidnapping was “un-Islamic.”

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