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AFGHANS TALK WITH TALIBAN TO FREE 22 HOSTAGES

A negotiator says demands for the South Koreans' release keep changing.

Afghan clerics and tribal elders are negotiating for the release of 22 South Korean hostages, who a Taliban spokesman said Thursday have been split into small groups and are being fed bread, yogurt and rice a week after their capture.

A local police chief said the talks have been difficult because the Taliban's demands were 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, 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.

One of the original group of 23 abducted Koreans, a 42-year-old pastor, was found slain Wednesday. Authorities recovered the body of Bae Hyung Kyu in Qarabagh district of Ghazni province, where the South Koreans were seized on July 19.

Bae, a founder of 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 government 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 Thursday evening to mourn Bae and pray for the other captives, many crying and consoling each other.

South Korean presidential spokesman Chun Ho Sun said the 22 South Koreans still believed held were not suffering health problems. He said South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun had spoken with Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the situation.

Two Germans were also kidnapped last week. One was found dead, and the other apparently remains captive.

In new violence, U.S.-led coalition forces and Afghan troops fought two separate battles with militants in southern Afghanistan, killing more than 60 suspected Taliban insurgents. A NATO soldier was killed in another incident, officials said.

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