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Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan raising anxiety

Britian is considering sending more troops to the country as violence there increases.

By / July 27, 2007

The future of 22 South Korean aid workers affiliated with a church and held hostage by the Taliban south of Kabul was uncertain on Friday, the day after the murdered body of the leader of the group was found not far from where they're being held, Reuters reports.

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Authorities in Ghazni, where the Christian hostages are believed to be held, refused to speak to the media. But one provincial official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Taliban had extended the deadline to allow face-to-face talks with the government.
Accusing the government of "killing time and playing tricks," a Taliban spokesman had said earlier they would kill the captives if rebel prisoners were not released by the Afghan government by Friday noon.
"The administration of Kabul has asked us to give them till 12 noon today," spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
"We are waiting for them. We have given them a list of eight prisoners and if they are not released we won't have any other option than to start killing the hostages."

An envoy from South Korea's President was due to arrive in Kabul on Friday to coordinate efforts to secure the group's safe release, reports the Associated Press. The manner in which efforts to secure their release is being conducted underscores the lack of central government control in the lawless region where they were abducted, on the country's main traffic artery from Kabul to Kandahar.

Local tribal elders and religious clerics who have respect among the people of the Qarabagh district where the Koreans were taken have been conducting negotiations by telephone with the captors for several days.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the hard-line Islamist Taliban, on Thursday reiterated a demand for the release of Taliban prisoners, and a threat to kill more of the hostages.
"If Kabul administration does not solve our problem .... then we do not have any option but to kill Korean hostages," Ahmadi said by phone from an undisclosed location.
Their church said the abductees were not involved in any Christian missionary work in Afghanistan, and had provided only medical and other volunteer aid to distressed people in the war-ravaged country. It said it will suspend some of its volunteer work in Afghanistan.

The New York Times reports that the hostage crisis is gripping the South Korean nation, and leading to soul searching about the missionary and aid work carried out by church groups in war zones.

In this highly wired country, where the Internet has emerged as a major channel of public opinion, people posted Web messages lamenting Mr. Bae's death and praying for the release of the other hostages. But many also criticized churches for sending young people to countries like Afghanistan.
For South Koreans, this new crisis represents the cost of the aid and evangelical operations that its Christian churches conduct in some of the world's most dangerous places.
In 2004, a South Korean interpreter and aspiring Christian missionary was beheaded by militants in Iraq.
Several South Korean missionaries have served time in or remain in Chinese prisons, accused of trying to convert North Korean refugees or for smuggling them to South Korea. One missionary, who was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 2000, is believed to have died in the North.
With 12,000 to 17,000 evangelists in more than 160 countries, South Korea has one of the most aggressive armies of Christian missionaries on earth. Only the United States sends out more — 46,000 by some estimates.