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Taliban kidnappers have suspended a deadline for the execution of 23 South Korean hostages, according to an Afghan negotiator.
The captors had declined to set a new deadline after the latest expired Tuesday evening, according to Khial Mohammed Husseini, a Ghazni lawmaker who is trying to secure their release. Husseni said the Taliban has provided the negotiating team with a list of 24 militants from around the country they want freed from prison.
NPR could not immediately reach Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, for comment.
"If the government won't accept these conditions, then it's difficult for the Taliban to provide security for these hostages, to provide health facilities and food," Ahmadi told The Associated Press earlier by satellite phone. "The Taliban won't have any option but to kill the hostages."
Though some of Ahmadi's statements turn out to be true, he has also made repeated false claims, calling into question the reliability of his information.
The five-member delegation from Ghazni traveled to a remote area of Qarabagh district to try to secure the Koreans' freedom, said Khwaja Mohammad Sidiqi, the local police chief.
"Our negotiations are continuing," Husseini told the AP. "I hope that today we will get a good result."
The deputy interior minister, Abdul Khaliq said Afghanistan was not prepared to make a deal "against our national interest and our constitution," though he did not explicitly rule out freeing any prisoners.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun appealed for calm, saying at a Cabinet meeting "it's not a time to be hastily optimistic nor to be prematurely pessimistic about the outcome."
"It's important to resolve this in a calm and cool-headed attitude," he said. "The most important goal at this time is to get them back safely."
The South Korean Defense Ministry said it asked the Afghan military to refrain from conducting operations around the area where the hostages were believed held to avoid provoking the kidnappers.
The South Korean hostages, including 18 women, were kidnapped on Thursday while riding on a bus through Ghazni on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, Afghanistan's main thoroughfare.
More than 100 villagers in Ghazni demonstrated for their release Tuesday.
Violence has spiked sharply in Afghanistan the last two months. More than 3,500 people, mostly militants, have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally of casualty figures provided by Western and Afghan officials.
In other violence, a roadside blast killed four U.S. soldiers in eastern Paktika province on Monday, said Gov. Mohammad Ekram Akhpelwak.
Norway said one if its soldiers was killed in Logar province, and NATO said a sixth soldier was killed in the south, though the soldier's nationality was not released.
The deaths bring to 114 the number of Western soldiers killed in Afghanistan this year, including 54 Americans, according to the AP count.
Also Tuesday, Afghanistan's last king was to be buried in a hilltop shrine in Kabul next to his late wife and other members of the royal family in a ceremony attended by foreign and Afghan dignitaries.
From NPR Reports and The Associated Press