By BosNewsLife News Centermercredi 29 août 2007, par
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(ADDS DATELINE, MORE HOSTAGES, REACTION FAMILIES, FIGHTING) KABUL/SEOUL (BosNewsLife)— Afghanistan’s militant Taliban movement on Wednesday, August 29, freed eight South Korean hostages, after they earlier agreed to release all 19 Christian volunteers they kidnapped nearly six weeks ago.
It was immediately clear when the remaining South Korean hostages would be released, however Talivan militants have promised to free all hostages, whom they are holding in different locations, over the next few days, BosNewsLife monitored.
The hostages were released into the care of officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at two separate locations in central Afghanistan close to the city of Ghazni. Witnesses said earlier they saw first three women being handed over to members of the ICRC Cross in Ghazni province, which has been facilitating the negotiations between the Taliban and South Korean mediators.
The three were seen arriving in the central Afghan village of Qala-E-Qazi in a single car, their heads covered with green shawls. They said nothing to reporters, who were asked by Red Cross representatives not to question them, an Associated Press (AP) news agency reporter said.
The releases came a day after the South Korean government said it had reached a deal with the Taliban, which included a pledge to withdraw some 200 troops from Afghanistan. South Korea stressed however, it already planned to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as scheduled by the year’s end.
It also promised it would end all missionary work in the country and stop its citizens from traveling there. Since their capture, however Seoul already announced harsher penalties for travel to banned areas.
The deal came to late for two other male hostages who were already killed by the Taliban. They were identified as the group’s 42-year-old leader Bae Hyun-kyu, a youth pastor at the hostages’ home church, and fellow Christian, Shim Sung Min, who was 29. Two other female hostages were later released, as a "goodwill gesture" the Taliban said.
The 23 hostages allegedly made their trip illegally, following in the footsteps of other South Korean Christian missionaries who say the of Jesus Christ if for everyone, including Muslims.
The hostages’ Saemmul Presbyterian Church in Bundang, near Seoul, has denied however that its workers only focused on preaching the Gospel, saying they were involved in several aid projects. Traveling to Afghanistan seems to fit in a long tradition of Christians in South Korea, which is second only to the United States in the number of Christian missionaries it sends abroad, with thousands being active around the world.
In South Korea the hostages’ relatives welcomed news of the deal and reports of the first hostages being released. "I would like to dance," said Cho Myung-ho, mother of 28-year-old hostage Lee Joo-yeon, in comments to reporters. They and other believers of the Saemmul Presbyterian Church as well as millions of Christians around the world held prayer vigils for the hostages’ release.
Cha Sung-min, whose 32-year-old sister, Cha Hye-jin, was among the hostages, said he was "sorry to the public for causing concern, but we thank the government officials for the (impending) release."
"Still, our hearts are broken as two died, so we convey our sympathy to the bereaved family members," said Cha Sung-min, who has served as a spokesman for the hostages’ relatives, in a statement. Analysts say the development is likely to strain relations between South Korea and the United States as Washington has refused to negotiate with the Taliban, which it regards as a terrorist organization.
In a sign of further tensions, the US-led coalition reportedly said Tuesday August 28, that over 100 suspected Taliban militants were killed during a battle involving air strikes in southern Afghanistan. At least four coalition soldiers were apparently wounded in the fighting, including one Afghan.
However militants already reacted Wednesday when a suicide bomber killed four civilians and two Afghan soldiers in eastern Paktika province, news reports said.
In addition, a coalition statement said a joint force of American and Afghan troops was ambushed by Taleban insurgents in Kandahar, the Voice Of America (VOA) network reported. (Developing story. With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Eric Leijenaar and Stefan J. Bos. BosNewsLife Anti-Terrorism Task Force : Covering the Threats of Our Time).
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