AFGHANISTAN: Taliban release eight Korean hostages

Eight South Korean hostages have been released today by the Taliban following the announcement yesterday of an agreement between the South Korean government and the Taliban.

Three women hostages were released first – Han Ji-young (aged34), Lee Jung-ran (33), and An Hye-jin (31). The women, with their heads covered by traditional headscarves, were freed near the edge of the town of Ghazni. The three, said to be in good health, wept as they were handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Thay have since met with South Korean government officials.

Haji Zahir, a tribal elder who has been acting as a mediator in efforts to secure the Koreans’ release, said that he and two other elders had travelled to meet the Taleban and bring the women by car to Ghazni.

Later, a group of five hostages (four women and a man) were also freed into the custody of the Red Cross. The Taliban have stated that the remaining 11 hostages will be released in the next couple of days.

Back in South Korea , the pastor at Saemmul Church said “The families are rejoicing at the news. They are busy calling other family members and friends at the moment to pass on the news”. A spokesman for the hostage families, Cha Sung-min, said “We knew the negotiation process was turning favourable, but we never thought it would happen so soon… when the announcement came out, there was a commotion in the room as everyone hugged each other.”

The group of twenty three Christians had travelled to Afghanistan in July to carry out aid work in schools and hospitals. They 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. (BBC/ Korea Times/Reuters)