Taleban rebels in Afghanistan have
released 12 South Koreans - 10 women and two men - out of a group of 19
hostages that they have been holding.
These three women were the first to be freed on
The hostages have been released in three groups throughout the day.
They are said to be in good health.
The three women and one man from the latest group to be freed were
said to be "hugely relieved" at their release.
The Taleban said the remaining seven hostages would be released soon.
The group was initially seized in July.
The hostages were released with the mediation of tribal elders in
The first two groups of hostages were handed over to officials of the
International Committee of the Red Cross and were then taken to meet
South Korean government officials in Ghazni.
Haji Zahir, a tribal elder who has been acting as a mediator, told
the BBC he and two other elders had travelled to meet the Taleban and
bring the first three women by car to Ghazni.
The second group of hostages was then released in the Shabaz area of
Ghazni province, close to the village of Ghazni itself.
The head of the Afghanistan branch of the International Committee of
the Red Cross told the BBC that the third group was released late in the
day in the same part of Ghazni province in which the Koreans were first
kidnapped in mid July.
Earlier, Lee Jeong-hoon, whose sister Lee Ji-young was one of the
first to be released, spoke of her feelings on hearing of the news.
"... I told my parents and they were crying and saying she's coming
back alive. I was relieved, but I hope the remaining 16 hostages can
return safely and healthy," she said.
The releases come a day after the South Korean government said it had
reached a deal with the Taleban.
South Korea has agreed to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as
scheduled by the end of the year. It also said it would end all
missionary work in the country and stop its citizens from travelling
There has been no mention of money being paid, but it is thought that
a ransom may have been part of the deal, says the BBC's Alastair
Leithead in Kabul.
The Taleban appear to have dropped their earlier demand that Taleban
members be released from Afghan prisons in exchange for the hostages'
A Taleban representative, Mullah Basheer, said all 19 would be
released "step by step" in the coming week.
"One of our main demands has not been accepted, but our other demands
were welcomed. All of the Koreans will be released in less than a week."
Speaking in Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her
government would not change its strategy in light of the release of the
One German national is still being held in Afghanistan. Another
German national, who was kidnapped at the same time, died of a heart
"The federal government is trying hard to obtain the release of the
hostages we have in Afghanistan," Ms Merkel said.
"All necessary efforts are being made. In my view, the situation
concerning the South Korean hostages will not change in the way we are
dealing with it. We are, through the crisis committee, very much
involved and engaged and making everything possible for the liberation
of the hostages."
The militants kidnapped 23 South Koreans on 19 July as they travelled
by bus on the main Kandahar to Kabul highway.
They subsequently killed two male hostages and later freed two women
following a first round of talks.
The hostages are thought to be held in several different locations in
Some 200 South Korean non-combat personnel are deployed in the
country to help with reconstruction efforts. Seoul had already decided,
before the kidnap, to end the deployment.