S. Korea struggles to free hostages in Afghanistan following execution
ICC Note: Taliban fails to release eight hostages as promised, still holding 22 after executing the leader of the team.
By Sohn Suk-joo and Byun Duk-kun
7/26/07 Afghanistan (Yonhap) — South Korea on Thursday dispatched a special presidential envoy to Afghanistan to work for the release of 22 South Koreans taken hostage last week after the Taliban shot and killed one of them.
혻혻 A purported spokesman for the militant group said on Wednesday the militants will start killing more hostages if the Afghan government does not meet their demands to free Taliban prisoners by a Thursday deadline, which reportedly has been extended to 5:30 a.m. (Seoul time) or 0930 GMT.
혻혻 “One of our citizens kidnapped in Afghanistan has been confirmed to have been killed on July 25,” a stone-faced Cho Hee-yong, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said in a press briefing. “The government once again urges the kidnappers to immediately return the hostages to their families and we will continue to do our utmost to win their safe release.”
The victim was identified as Bae Hyung-kyu, 42, a pastor of Saemmul Church who led the 10-day organized trip to Afghanistan , the Foreign Ministry confirmed, saying his bullet-riddled body was found by Afghan police in Ghazni Province .
혻혻 The corpse was transported Thursday to Bagram, about 50 kilometers northwest of Kabul , where South Korea ‘s Dongui Medical Unit and Dasan Engineering Unit are stationed, South Korean officials said.
혻혻 Bae’s body is to be returned to South Korea on a private plane, but a flight had yet to be arranged because preparations for a coffin and plane were still under way, they said.
혻 혻 He had 10 bullet holes in his head, chest and stomach, news reports said. The direct cause of his death is still uncertain, as he was found to have had a lung disease and was unable to take necessary medication while being held by Taliban forces.
혻혻 Seoul strongly condemned the Afghan militants for “their act of brutality in killing an innocent civilian,” while urging the immediate release of the remaining 22 hostages.
혻혻 Earlier reports said at least eight of the South Korean hostages were released late Wednesday and were en route to a U.S. military base, but Seoul officials said none of the hostages has arrived at the base.
혻혻 Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that Taliban militants took some of the hostages to be dropped off at the U.S. base, but soon returned to their hideout after spotting armored vehicles, which they apparently viewed as a threat. Discussions on the hostages’ release halted as night descended.
혻혻 Seoul officials, however, have confirmed that the Taliban have not killed any of the other hostages despite the botched hostage delivery and the expiry of a deadline.
혻혻 “While maintaining communication channels with the militant group, we are constantly checking on the safety of the 22 hostages through various means,” a Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters Thursday.
혻혻 The purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said earlier that the kidnappers demanded the abductees be exchanged for an equal number of Taliban prisoners.
혻혻 The report of the death dashed the hopes of the families of the hostages, although they briefly breathed a sigh of relief at the news that eight hostages had been freed.
혻혻 “No! No!” shouted some of the more than 1,000 people who gathered at the Saemmul Presbyterian Church in Bundang, just south of Seoul , to which the hostages belonged. Many of them wailed, while others made telephone calls to the Foreign Ministry [Go To Full Story]