GHAZNI, Afghanistan (BP)–Taliban militants released 12 of 19 South Korean Christian hostages Aug. 29 in the wake of an agreement reached with the South Korean government.
The hostages were freed in three separate groups hours apart, beginning with the release of three women, then four women and a man, and finally three women and another man, the International Herald Tribune reported. The hostages were handed over to South Korean officials through the Red Cross. The other seven hostages are expected to be released in the coming days.
Haji Zaher, a tribal elder in the region, said the hostages had been held by the Taliban in different locations in the Ghazni Province, the newspaper reported.
The South Korean Christians had gone to Afghanistan as part of a 23-member mission trip sponsored by Saemmul Presbyterian Church just outside Seoul, but on July 19 their bus was stopped and they were kidnapped by Taliban militants. The Taliban killed two of the members and then released two others.
South Korea agreed to meet face to face with the Taliban, and on Aug. 28 South Korean officials announced they had reached an agreement to allow for the release of the remaining 19 hostages. As part of that agreement, South Korea pledged to keep its promise to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan — something it previously had announced it would do — and also to ban South Korean Christian missionaries from going to Afghanistan.
Some Afghanistan government officials fear the deal — and the fact that the Taliban likely will view the kidnappings as having been successful — will lead to more kidnappings.
“One has to say that this release under these conditions will make our difficulties in Afghanistan even bigger,” Afghan Commerce Minister Amin Farhang told a German radio station, according to the International Herald Tribune. “We fear that this decision could become a precedent. The Taliban will continue trying to take hostages to attain their aims in Afghanistan.”
Southern Baptist leaders Aug. 28 expressed mixed feelings about the deal.
“I am delighted that they are being released,” Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page, who also serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., told Baptist Press. “But I am saddened about some of the conditions for the release. I had encouraged the Koreans not to negotiate with terrorists, and had hoped that they would be released out of sheer human kindness and/or military intervention. While the statement is made [by the South Korean government] that missionary work will stop, God’s work will not stop in Afghanistan.”
Compiled by Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press.