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Anxious hours after the passing of the deadline for the 22 Korean hostages

ICC Note: Negotiations continue with difficulty as those in Seoul anxiously await news.

By Pino Cazzaniga

7/27/07 Afghanistan (AsiaNews) – An appeal “to do something to get us released” launched via telephone by one of the 22 South Korean hostages, kidnapped in Ghazni, Afghanistan, is the latest twist in events surrounding the case which the Afghan government continues to insist may be resolved peacefully, while negotiations continue and in Seoul anxiety reigns, following the expiry of the latest deadline at, 13local time, 8 GMT.

The woman, who identified herself as Yo Syun Ju, told an Afghan reporter by telephone “all the hostages were sick”.

The fact is that despite the reassuring tones from Kabul and the presence on Afghan soil of a South Korean negotiator, since Wednesday evening all of South Korea has been living in a state of shock following the brutal killing of the leader of the 23 Korean hostages, captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan on July 19th.

Afghan police in Ghazni found a bullet-riddled body identified by South Korean media as Bae Hyung-kyu, a Christian pastor who was the leader of the group of 22 other church volunteers on the day he would have turned 42. Seoul confirmed his identity. Just hours before, Yousuf Amhadi, spokesman for the Taliban guerrillas, notified the press: “We have killed one of the Koreans because the government is not honest in negotiations”.

That evening in the Saemmul community church, to which most of the young hostages belong, around one thousand faithful had gathered, waiting for news. About one hour before the unbelievable announcement, it was stated that the Taliban had agreed to release 8 of the hostages (six women and two men) and that the freed hostages were already safe and sound in an American military base.

The reports were partly true and partly false: the NHK, Japanese television network, clarified that the agreed release, obtained thanks to the exchange of a large sum of money, did not take place because as they were making there way to the designated place of exchange, the Taliban came across armored vehicles, thus they retraced their steps and brought the hostages back into hiding. All hopes were lost. The gathering was transformed into a prayer vigil. “The brutally murdered – said his colleagues in Saemmul church – he was a strong and charismatic leader for young people: his example of dedication to voluntary work for the poor inspired many”.

Born on Jeju Island , he graduated from the University of Hanyang ( Seoul ), and after having worked for some years in a company, he chose to attend a theology course in the Presbyterian theological seminary in Seoul , becoming ordained in Seoul in 2001. He then obtained masters from the Catholic university of Sogang directed by the Jesuits. The Saemmul community was founded by him together with the head pastor Park Eun-jo.

Bae was also a director of the Korea Foundation for World Aid. In April he had traveled to Bangladesh and after having helped the group in Afghanistan he was due to travel on to Africa to help the needy. He leaves behind a wife and a child.

The motive for his killing is still unclear. An Afghan police official said the hostage was killed because he was ill and walked with difficulty. An opinion confirmed by Taliban sources. Members of the Saemmul community say that Bae was in good health and was killed because he was a Christian pastor.

The government of Seoul ’s protest was immediate and harsh. Cho Hee-yong, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, confirmed the killing of “one of our citizens in Afghanistan ” he said: “Once again, our government calls on the kidnappers to release our people and allow them to return to their families and we will continue to do all in our power to secure their safe release”. These are no routine comments. President Roo Moo-hyun from the outset has shown total commitment to obtaining their release and this time has the support of the people. On Tuesday night he held lengthy talks with the Afghan president Hamid Garzai via telephone: diplomatic reserve does not impede theories on the subject: no recourse to force, the insistence of dialogue. He then sent a presidential delegation to Afghanistan of 5 members under the lead of Baek Jong-chun., his principal advisor for foreign policies and security. “The Korean government – said Baek – is profoundly saddened by the news that one of the hostages was killed by the Taliban. The government strongly condemns this act of brutality”.

The government’s moves seem to have had some effect at least for now. Even if the last and final deadline, according to Ahmadi, has passed, the Afghan government and the Taliban have confirmed that none of the 22 hostages have been killed.

Negotiations continue on various levels, but with great difficulty because the Taliban’s demands are far from clear. Among them are “hawks” and “doves”. The former demand the release of the same number of Taliban prisoners, the latter content themselves with a hefty ransom.