Confusion as Fighting Reported in Mission to Free Korean Hostages

Confusion arose as contrasting reports emerged from Afghanistan in the mission to free Korean Christian hostages being held by Taliban militants.

The BBC on Wednesday afternoon reported receiving information about fighting breaking out in the area where the team of Korean Christian hostages are being held, saying the development suggests a dangerous operation had begun to free them.

The Telegraph had also reported that a joint US and Afghan army operation had allegedly been launched in Afghanistan to free 21 South Korean hostages held captive by Taliban insurgents.

In addition, earlier on Wednesday the Afghan military had used helicopters to drop leaflets across the area telling local residents to flee, prompting rumours a strike was imminent as another Taliban deadline passed.

However, the reports have been denied by Afghan officials. The Afghan interior ministry insisted that no such operation was underway, and spokesmen for the US army and the South Korean Embassy also denied any knowledge of an assault on the hostage takers.

The latest reports from Reuters has also confirmed that all remaining 21 South Korean hostages were alive on Wednesday despite the expiry of a deadline, according to an insurgent spokesman.

"Yes, they are alive," Qari Moahmmad Yousuf told Reuters by telephone from an unknown location.

He added that no operation had started to rescue the captives, but there had been signs of increased troop movement in the area in the last 24 hours.

Till now the Taliban militants have killed 2 male hostages from the 23 kidnapped, and have threatened more would die unless demands for the Afghan government to release its members currently being imprisoned were met.

Recent reports had told that of the 18 women left, a number were seriously ill, with 2 of them in gravely ill health.

The 23 Christians were travelling through Afghanistan on 19 July when they were kidnapped, after delivering aid to needy people in the country.

The pastor leading the team, Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, was the first to be shot dead by the militants at the weekend.

As another deadline issued by the Taliban passed on Monday the Taliban shot dead another male - 29-year-old Shim Sung-min, a former IT worker.

Today, 1 August, as another deadline passed Khowja Seddiqi, district chief of Qarabagh, in Ghazni province said: "The hostages are alive."

The hostages' desperate relatives, keeping an agonising vigil in Seoul, appealed to the U.S. government to intervene. South Korean lawmakers also made a joint appeal to Washington to act.

"The majority of the hostages are ill, but two females are seriously ill and there is this possibility that they may die," Qari Mohammad Yousuf told Reuters by telephone.