Taliban Kills 2 Germans in Afghanistan; Korean Christians Await Fate

Afghan Taliban rebels killed the second of two German hostages on Saturday after the end of their deadline for Germany to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and the Afghan government to free all Taliban prisoners.

"The mujahideen also shot dead the second German hostage," Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf told Reuters by telephone from an unknown location.

The two unidentified Germans along with six Afghan colleagues were kidnapped at gun point while travelling in a vehicle on Wednesday in Wardak province which lies to the southwest of Kabul.

German media said the two men were engineers being escorted by their Afghan colleagues when they were taken away.

Earlier Yousuf said if Germany failed to withdraw its troops serving under NATO in Afghanistan and the Afghan government did not free all Taliban prisoners by 0800 GMT then the group would kill the second hostage too.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a newspaper interview published on Saturday said there was no question of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

"We can't give up our efforts now," she was quoted as saying in an interview with Passauer Neue Presse newspaper. "The Afghan people can't be abandoned."

A spokeswoman for Germany's Foreign Ministry earlier said that Berlin had received no clear evidence that the two Germans were in the hands of the Taliban.

At the beginning of July a German was taken hostage and then freed after a week. In October 2006 two German journalists were murdered in the relatively stable northern part of the country where there are over 3,000 German troops stationed as part of a NATO peacekeeping force.

The Afghan government said it was not aware of the Taliban ultimatum on the German hostages.

KOREAN HOSTAGES

The Taliban said they would also decide on Saturday the fate of 23 Koreans they were separately holding since Thursday.

The kidnapping of the Koreans is the biggest group of foreigners seized so far in the militant campaign to oust the U.S.-backed government.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun called for the release of hostages, saying they were medical volunteers.

"We understand the kidnapped South Koreans have been doing medical volunteer services," Roh told a news conference in Seoul.

"The kidnappers must release our people as soon as possible, and safely. In any case, valuable lives should not be damaged."

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official had said on Friday about 20 South Korean Christian volunteers were feared to have been kidnapped by Taliban insurgents.

Last year, the South Korean government tried to stop a group of 2,000 Korean Christians travelling to Afghanistan for a peace conference, fearing for their safety.

But 900 of them still came to Afghanistan, causing an uproar in the staunchly Muslim country -- where many accused them of being evangelical missionaries -- before they were all deported.

South Korea has no combat troops in Afghanistan, but has a contingent of 200 engineers, doctors and medical staff. Roh said they would remain in Afghanistan until their mission was complete.

"The troops in Afghanistan are non-combatant, doing medical and support work. They have been trying to treat hundreds of people everyday and help reconstruct Afghanistan by building welfare facilities and bridges, and their mission is nearing an end," Roh said.

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