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German Politician Criticizes South Korea Over Hostage Release

A German politician has joined in the chorus of criticism of the circumstances surrounding the release of the last 19 South Koreans hostages who were held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for nearly six weeks.

Photograph of five freed South Korean hostages walking after release by the Taliban

All South Korean hostages have now been released

Opposition Green Party defense spokesman Winfried Nachtwei said he was pleased the hostages had been freed but at a political level it was nothing less than "a political triumph for the Taliban."

The Taliban's "extortionate demands" appeared to have been met all along the line, he told the Berlin radio station RBB.

On Thursday, the Taliban freed the remaining seven South Korean aid workers they had been holding. Twelve other hostages were released on Wednesday.

Nachtwei said the outcome was bad for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, "which did not play any part" in the release.

South Koreans watch TV screen showing the group picture of the kidnapped South Koreans in Afghanistan

The South Korean government is also facing criticism at home

The South Korean government said it had confirmed to the Taliban it would withdraw its 200 soldiers from Afghanistan by year's end.

The Aghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta emphasized on Thursday that South Korea had already made its decision before the missionaries were kidnapped.

"It is a very dangerous message when we give the impression that the international community and the Afghan government can be blackmailed," Dadfar said on Thursday on RBB radio.

Afghan government bypassed

The day before, Afghan commerce minister Amin Farhang had also criticized the South Korean government for bypassing the Afghan government and dealing directly with the Taliban.

"This release under these conditions will make our difficulties in Afghanistan even bigger," Farhand told German public radio Bayerischer Rundfunk.

"We fear that this decision could become a precedent. The Taliban will continue trying to take hostages to attain their aims in Afghanistan."

South Korea also said it had promised to send no more "Christian missionaries" into the Muslim country. For its part, the Taliban dropped their demands for the release of prisoners.

Speculation is rife that the South Korean government paid a ransom for the hostages, a charge denied by both South Korean and Taliban officials.

Taliban gains credibility

After initial joy at the release of the hostages, the Korean newspaper Korea Times added its voice to the volley of criticism.

"Even if the Taliban didn't manage to assert their demands for a prisoner exchange that they have had direct negotiations with a foreign state on 'their territory' greatly adds to their political credibility," the paper said.

Photograph of an ambulance in a police convoy transporting the dead body of one of two kidnapped Germans

An ambulance transports the dead body of one of two Germans kidnapped in Afghanistan

One German national who was kidnapped around the same time as the South Koreans is still being held in Afghanistan. Another German national, who was seized with him, was killed while in captivity.

The Taliban are demanding that Germany withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for his release, something which German government refuses to do.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her government would not change its strategy in light of the release of the Korean hostages.

"The federal government is trying hard to obtain the release of the hostages we have in Afghanistan," Merkel said Wednesday during a visit to Japan.

Photograph of German councillor Angela Merkel shaking hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

In Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised that Germany wouldn't be blackmailed by the Taliban

"The situation concerning the South Korean hostages will not change in the way we are dealing with it," she said.

The Taliban originally kidnapped 23 South Koreans as they traveled from Kabul to Kandahar on July 19. In late July, the militants killed two male hostages, and they released two women earlier this month as gesture of goodwill.

Two men were killed after the expiration of Taliban-set deadlines for the Afghan authorities to meet their demands, and two female hostages who fell ill were released on Aug. 13 in what the militants called a "goodwill gesture."

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