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Aug 29, 2007 at 03:36pm IST

Taliban releases three S Korean hostages

Ghazni (Afghanistan): Taliban militants on Wednesday released three of the 19 South Korean hostages they are holding, a day after reaching a deal with South Korean officials to end the six-week-long hostage drama.

A Taliban representative said five to eight of the hostages including one man could released initially.

The others would be let off in the coming days. This is because they are all being held in different places and it would take some time to bring them to a central location.

Earlier two sick hostages were freed. There was jubilation among families of the hostages back home when the news came.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, welcomed the news of a deal and called for all the hostages to be freed quickly.

Taliban representative, Mullah Basheer, in Tuesday's talks held in Ghazni province -- where a group of 23 South Koreans were kidnapped on July 19 -- said militants will "hopefully" free five to eight captives on Wednesday, including one man. He did not give further details.

On Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said that the South Koreans -- mostly females in their 20s and 30s -- would be freed "in the coming days" with the involvement of tribal elders, who would act as go-betweens.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, told a news conference on Tuesday that he had used "all possible efforts" as Secretary-General to help obtain the release of the hostages, talking to leaders in Afghanistan and the region who might have influence.

"I welcome that news that both the Korean government and Taliban representatives have agreed to release the remaining 19 hostages," he was quoted by news agency Associated Press as saying.

(With inputs from agencies)

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