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(LEAD) Eight of 23 Korean hostages released: official

All Headlines 21:34 July 25, 2007

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details)

SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) -- Eight of 23 South Korean hostages in Afghanistan were released late Wednesday, a government official said, amid reports that the South Korean government paid a ransom to the kidnappers.

The Taliban had earlier demanded the abductees be exchanged for an equal number of Taliban prisoners.

Whether the Afghan government has agreed to release Taliban prisoners could not be confirmed.

An unidentified Afghan official, however, earlier told Japan's Kyodo News agency that "huge amounts of money" had been paid to the Taliban for the release of the eight hostages.

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a purported spokesman for the Taliban, said the group would first swap eight hostages for the same number of Taliban prisoners, hoping to later exchange a greater number of hostages for prisoners.

The hostages will be moved to a safe zone and will then be flown back to South Korea after a medical check-up. The purported Taliban spokesman earlier said some of the eight were sick, the official said.

The South Koreans, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, were taken hostage Thursday from a bus en route from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar, where they were to provide free medical services.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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