Taliban militants in Afghanistan say that they have freed two women from among the 21 South Korean hostages they are currently holding, claims a news report on the BBC.
Two others have already been killed.
The action is apparently being described as a "gesture of goodwill" following negotiators between the Taliban and a South Korean delegation in the city of Ghazni.
Negotiators said earlier this week that a deal could be near. But so far no Afghan or South Korean officials have been able to confirm the reported release.
The South Korean Christian aid workers were seized by the rebels in July 2007, as part of a campaign against wht is seen as Western and international interference.
"Our leadership council decided to free unconditionally and as a gesture of goodwill two women hostages who are sick," Taliban spokesperson Yousuf Ahmadi told the AFP news agency earlier today.
Another representative, Zabihullah Mujahed, said the move would "show that we're honest in our talks and expect the government to be honest and free our prisoners".
The rebels are demanding the release of comrades held by the Afghan government.
The government, stung by criticism over a previous prisoner exchange, has ruled out a swap to secure the release of the Koreans.
International church groups and human rights organisatons have been working behind the scenes to secure the release of the Koreans.
They believe a non-confrontational strategy is the best way forward, based on past hostage negotiation experience.