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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taliban Release 2 Korean Hostages

ReutersTwo South Korean hostages being escorted Monday in Arzoo, southwest of Kabul, after being released by the Taliban.
GHAZNI, Afghanistan -- Two women among the 23 South Koreans kidnapped by the Taliban in mid-July were freed Monday, the first significant breakthrough in a hostage drama now more than three weeks old.

The two women, who broke into tears after seeing the international Red Crescent officials there to take custody of them on a rural Afghan roadside, got out of a dark gray Toyota Corolla driven by an Afghan elder and into one of two waiting Red Crescent sport utility vehicles. The women said nothing to reporters alerted to the handoff location 10 kilometers southeast of Ghazni by a Taliban spokesman.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry identified the freed hostages as Kim Kyung-ja and Kim Ji-na. Previous media reports said they were 37 and 32, respectively.

The women, who wore scarves on their heads, khaki trousers and traditional Afghan knee-length shirts, were then driven to the U.S. base in Ghazni, where U.S. soldiers searched the women and then let them into the base.

The South Korean government confirmed the release of the two hostages and said they were under protection in a safe location. Seoul called for the other captives to also be freed.

"We urge the kidnappers to release our people, and we will make efforts for the safety and release of South Koreans," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Hee-yong.

The women, who the Taliban have said are ill, were among church group volunteers kidnapped by militants on July 19.

The release is the first breakthrough in the hostage drama, which took a downturn late July when two male captives were executed by gunfire.

Fourteen women and five men are still being held, and the Taliban have demanded the release of 21 militant prisoners in exchange for the captives.