In statements, the Taliban said they handed over two South Korean women, who were apparently ill and held captive in Afghanistan for more than three weeks, to officials of the International Committee of the Red Crescent (ICRC) in Ghazni Province where the Korean delegation and the Taliban had face-to-face negotiations.
The pair, — identified as Kim Kyung Ja and Kim Jina — soon arrived in Ghazni’s provincial capital, also called Ghazni. They reportedly wept as they got out of the gray Toyota Corolla driven by local tribal elder Haji Zahid and into two waiting Red Cross SUVs on their way to Ghazni City.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, said earlier that the decision to free the pair had been made by the Taliban leadership council, headed by Muhallah Mohammad Omar, as "a gesture of goodwill" towards the Korean people and South Korean diplomats negotiating for the hostages’ release.
The Swiss-run ICRC, which is facilitating the talks in the city of Ghazni, had said it was standing by to assist in the release of South Korean hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Two hostages have already been killed since the hostage drama began July 19.
The Taliban killed two male hostages and threatened to kill the remaining 21, 18 of them women, unless a similar number of Taliban prisoners are freed in exchange. However Afghanistan’s government has so far refused to give in to the demand, saying that would just encourage more kidnapping.
Despite the threats, South Korean evangelicals remain active in the country. Last year, the South Korean government reportedly tried to stop a group of 2,000 Korean Christians traveling to Afghanistan for a peace conference, fearing for their safety. However, 900 of them still came to Afghanistan, causing uproar among Muslim militants.
The hostages’ Saem-Mul Protestant Community Church in Bundang on Seoul’s outskirts has been holding prayer vigils.
The church has said that they came to Afghanistan to "do evangelical activity and volunteer work" in hospitals and children’s homes. They were due to return home by Monday, July 23, but were taken from a bus by armed gunmen.
The driver of the bus transporting the evangelical Christians is suspected of tipping off the Taliban about their route. The bus driver has been arrested, The Times newspaper reported.
In a commentary, The Korea Times newspaper said that while being "relieved" the two female hostages were released, the Taliban should also "let go the remaining 19 hostages immediately." Holding "powerless hostages, mainly women, for the sake of their interests is contrary to the ‘peace loving’ spirit pursued by Islam," the influential paper argued. (With BosNewsLife’s Eric Leijenaar and Stefan J. Bos. BosNewsLife Anti-Terrorism Task Force covering the threats of our time).