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Freed South Korean hostages return home

The two women call for the Taliban to free 19 other aid workers still held in Afghanistan.

By / August 17, 2007

Two South Koreans who were held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for nearly a month returned home on Friday, creating hope that 19 other members of their group may soon be freed. The two women were released on Monday as South Korean officials engaged the Taliban in direct talks. Although negotiations have continued, the hostage situation remains at a standstill.

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Kim Kyung-ja and Kim Gina, were released unconditionally as "a gesture of good faith" when the South Koreans began direct negotiations with the Taliban, reports Korea's Yonhap News Agency. Originally there were 23 hostages, but their captors killed two of the male hostages after kidnapping the group of Korean, Christian aid workers on July 19. The liberated hostages briefly addressed reporters at the airport, but did not take any questions.

"We are very sorry that we caused you to worry so much. Because of your help, we were able to be released, and we would like to heartily thank you," Kim Kyung-ja said after entering the entrance gate at the airport. "For now, we can do nothing but hope that the other people, who are still held by the Taliban in Afghanistan, get released soon."
"We are so obliged to you all for your concerns," Kim Gina said. "We are grateful that we were released."

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun issued a statement on Monday saying the government was "pleased" about the release of two hostages, but he called for early liberation of the rest, reports China's Xinhua News Agency. Although the Taliban reported that the women had beome ill, they could walk without assistance and did not seem to be in "critical condition."

The president instructed the government to do its utmost to secure the release of all the other hostages as soon as possible and reiterated that South Korea would maintain close cooperation with the Afghan government and international society to gain the release of the remaining hostages, the statement said.

These latest talks between Korean and Taliban officials were able to take place when the Afghan government assured the safety of the militant delegation. The Taliban is demanding a prisoner exchange of militant in exchange for the Koreans freedom. The South Korean government lacks the power to free any Taliban militants, so the hostages takers are hoping Korean officials will pressure Afghanistan officials to act in accordance with their demands. The Associated Press reports that, so far, no settlement has been reached.

The two sides talked for three hours on Thursday at the offices of Afghan Red Crescent in Ghazni. The International Committee of Red Cross helped facilitate the talks.
The Taliban delegation arrived several hours after the talks were scheduled to start, said Franz Rauchenstein, an ICRC official. There was no immediate explanation what caused the delay.
The Taliban left after the talks in ICRC vehicles, without speaking to reporters.