Ex-hostages in tearful reunion with families
SOUTH KOREA: Nineteen South Korean former hostages who spent
six weeks under threat of death from Afghanistan’s Taliban arrived home
Sunday, saying they felt as if they had died and then got their lives
The former captives had tearful reunions with their families at a
hospital outside Seoul before undergoing medical checks.
“We apologise to the people for causing trouble and thank everyone
who helped us return home safely,” the spokesman for the Christian aid
workers told reporters at Incheon airport after a drama which had
gripped the country.
“We owe the country and the people a great debt,” said Yu Kyeong-Sik.
“We had basically died and have got our lives back. We plan to live
in a way that will make you proud, and we promise that to you and we
will repay our debt.”
Guerrillas posing as passengers abducted 16 women and seven men on
July 19 from their bus in insurgency-plagued southern Afghanistan.
The insurgents murdered two men last month to press their demands to
exchange the Koreans for Taliban prisoners, a condition firmly rejected
by the Kabul government.
After starting talks in Afghanistan with Seoul representatives, the
Taliban on August 13 released two women in what they called a “goodwill
gesture” and finally freed the remainder last Wednesday and Thursday.
It was only then that the 19 learnt of the two killings.
“When we heard about that, all of us were unable to recover from
that,” said Yu, 55. “We ask that you give us a little bit of time and
space and once we are able to rest we will explain everything in
Some of the women in the group sobbed as he spoke to journalists.
“Having my two children back today, I cannot but thank the people,”
Suh Jeong-Bae who had had his son and daughter altogether held by the
Taliban, said in a big smile during the family reunion.
The South Korean government, powerless to meet demands for a prisoner
release, finally reached a deal with the help of an Indonesian diplomat.
It agreed to go ahead with a previously scheduled withdrawal of its
210 non-combat troops from Afghanistan by year-end, and to ban its
missionaries from visiting the Islamic nation.
Despite several media reports that a ransom was paid, the head of
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service — who was in Afghanistan
personally overseeing the discussions — denied making payments to the
Taliban when he returned with the group.
“There was no such deal,” Kim Man-Bok told reporters.
“I thank the public for their support. I am sorry for having failed
to rescue all 23 kidnapped people,” Kim said.
“I hope that the government and the public make efforts that this
kind of incident will not happen again.”
While Seoul apparently made no major concessions to the Taliban, the
deal came in for criticism from the Afghan and Canadian foreign
ministers for appearing to give the insurgents legitimacy.
Korean media generally said the government had no choice but to
negotiate with the extremists, but added this could damage the country’s