Government officials are frantically negotiating with Taliban militants after a Korean Christian hostage in Afghanistan made the first public plea for help.
After more than a week, 22 of the 23 South Korean aid volunteers that were abducted last Thursday by the Taliban are still being held captive. And hours after the expiration of the latest deadline of Friday noon (3:30 a.m. EDT), it was announced that all of the 22 remaining South Korean hostages are all alive, according to the Afghan deputy interior minister on Friday.
"They are alive and fine," said Munir Mangal, who heads an Afghan team trying to secure the release of the Christian hostages, according to Reuters.
He said an Afghan delegation was talking to the Taliban and had requested that the group not issue any further deadlines following the several previously made. It is unclear if the Taliban has accepted the delegation's appeal.
Talks on Friday were reportedly more urgent after one of the South Korean female captives made a plea for help in a reported telephone interview with U.S. television network CBS Thursday, apparently done in the presence of her captors.
"We are in a very difficult time. Please help us," said the woman, who was identified by CBS as Yo Cyun-ju.
"We are all pleading with you to help us get out of here as soon as possible. Really, we beg you," she added.
"All of us are sick and in very bad condition."
So far, Afghan authorities are refusing to release rebel prisoners after the government came under criticism in March for freeing five Taliban in exchange for an Italian reporter, according to Agence France-Presse.
"Our goal is to seek ways on how we can free the hostages without compromising our laws and regulations in regards with such cases," police chief Alishah Ahmadzai of Ghazni province said to AFP.
There has been one fatality since the Taliban kidnapped the 23 South Korean Christians last Thursday while traveling by bus to the southern city of Kandahar to offer free medical services to impoverished Afghan citizens.
Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, the 42-year-old leader of the aid group, was the first and thus far only victim in the Korean hostage team. An Afghan official said his body and was discovered in the area where the hostages were originally abducted and had 10 bullet holes in it.
A South Korean special envoy was scheduled to arrive in Kabul later Friday for an urgent hearing with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, AFP reported.
The kidnapping of the Christian aid workers last week was the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.