AFGHANISTAN: Taliban agree to release all Korean hostages

The South Korean government announced earlier today that the Taliban have agreed to release the 19 Christian hostages that they have been holding captive for the past six weeks. Relatives of the hostages (pictured) expressed their joy and relief at the news. “I would like to dance,” said Cho Myung-ho, mother of 28-year-old hostage Lee Joo-yeon.

A spokesman for the South Korean President told reporters. ‚ÄúThe two sides reached agreement on the release of all 19 Korean hostages on condition that the Korean government withdraws its troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year and bans missionary work by Korean Christians in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

It is not yet known when the hostages will be released but it is expected to be in the next few days. ‚ÄúWhen the hostages are released, we will send them to the Afghan capital of Kabul for medical checkups and take them to Korea as soon as possible,” the spokesman stated.

Asked whether the Taliban set other conditions for the hostages‚Äô release such as the freeing of Taliban prisoners, the spokesman said, “The government has persuaded the Taliban that releasing Taliban prisoners is beyond its power. The Taliban appear to understand our point. It also seems that they were inconvenienced by holding as many as 19 people for such a long time.”

The group of twenty three Christians were kidnapped on 19th July from a bus travelling from Kabul to Kandahar. The leader of the group, 42 year-old Pastor Bae Hyung Kyu, was shot dead six days later and another male hostage, Shim Sung-min (aged 29) was killed on 31st July. Two female hostages, Kim Ji Na (aged 32) and Kim Kyong Ja (aged 37), were released by the Taliban a fortnight ago. Since their return to South Korea, they have been cared for at a military hospital as they recovered from their ordeal.

The Christians, all from Sammul Presbyterian Church in Bundang, South Korea were on a short-term aid trip to Afghanistan. The group had planned to spend several days volunteering at a hospital and nursery school in Kandahar, where a single Korean woman teacher and two doctors, a husband and wife, from their church also were residing permanently.(AP/ Chosun Ilbo/ Korea Times)