KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan clerics and tribal elders are negotiating for the release of 22 South Korean hostages, who a Taliban spokesman said yesterday have been split into small groups and are being fed typical village food of bread, yogurt, and rice.
A week after the capture of the Christian volunteers, a local police chief said the talks have been difficult because the Taliban's demands have been unclear.
"One says, 'Let's exchange them for my relative;' the others say, 'Let's release the women;' and yet another wants a deal for money," said Khwaja Mohammad Sidiqi, the police chief in Qarabagh. "They have got problems among themselves."
The Taliban reiterated their demand that jailed militants be freed in exchange for the captives, and set the latest of several deadlines -- midday today -- for the condition to be met or more hostages would be killed.
Baek Jong-chun, a South Korean presidential envoy, was headed yesterday for Afghanistan to consult with top Afghan officials on how to secure the release of the captives.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan yesterday, US-led coalition forces and Afghan troops fought two battles with militants in the southern part of the country, killing more than 60 suspected Taliban insurgents. A NATO soldier was killed in another incident, officials said.
On Wednesday, one of the original group of 23 abducted Koreans, a 42-year-old pastor, was found slain with multiple gunshots. Authorities recovered the body of Bae Hyung-kyu in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province, where the South Koreans were seized on July 19.
Bae, a founder of the Saemmul Presbyterian Church, led its volunteer work in Afghanistan and was killed on his birthday, South Korean church officials said. An official at the South Korean Embassy in Kabul said authorities were arranging to repatriate the body.
His mother, 68-year-old Lee Chang-suk, broke into tears as she watched the televised announcement of his death. "I never thought it possible," she said from the southern island of Jeju, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
At the church, about 1,000 people gathered yesterday evening to mourn Bae and pray for the other captives, many crying and consoling each other.