The government has refused to identify the mysterious South Korean who announced a deal to release hostages in Afghanistan while wearing dark shades. But local media have given the secret agent a moniker: "the sunglass man."
The man earlier this week announced the breakthough deal in negotiations with the Taliban that led to the release of all remaining 19 South Koreans taken captive in Afghanistan nearly six weeks ago.
Scenes of the man and his Taliban counterpart standing side-by-side and speaking to reporters in Afghanistan - sometimes showing gestures of closeness, such as putting their arms around each other's shoulders - were widely published in South Korean newspapers and shown on TV.
But none have identified who he is. Such secrecy has led local media to dub the suit-and-tie-clad man with neatly combed hair "the sunglass man" for his trademark shades, apparently meant to conceal his identity.
"He is a temporarily employed person," said an official of the Foreign Ministry on condition of anonymity citing the issue's sensitivity. "He is not with the Foreign Ministry."
The official declined to provide further details.
The mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Friday that the man is likely an agent with South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service.
Citing an unnamed intelligence official, the daily reported that many NIS agents have been sent to Afghanistan as part of efforts to save the hostages.
The paper also cited an unidentified official as saying the man is a "negotiation expert well versed in Afghan affairs and fluent in English."
His English skills were visible in television footage Tuesday showing him and his Afghan counterpart announcing a deal had been reached.
"We cannot say whether that person is with us or not," said an NIS spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing agency policy. The official also declined to discuss whether his organization took part in the hostage negotiations.
Yonhap news agency reported the NIS has been deeply involved from the beginning of South Korea's face-to-face talks with the Taliban.
The report, citing unidentified sources, said the NIS has been training negotiation experts since 2004 when a South Korean national was kidnapped and killed in Iraq.
The Taliban released all 19 remaining hostages two days after "sunglass man" announced the deal Tuesday.
The insurgent group originally kidnapped 23 South Koreans on July 19, and killed two of them late last month as their demand for the release of imprisoned Taliban fighters was not met.