KABUL, AFGHANISTHAN (BosNewsLife) -- Afghanistan's militant Taliban movement released the last seven remaining South Korean Christian hostages Thursday, August 30, ending their six-week kidnapping ordeal.
Reporters saw that they were handed over to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The three others were scheduled to be released shortly.
Red Cross officials took several men and women in their care on a road in Janda area in central Afghanistan, BosNewsLife monitored. The other three captives were released soon after.
On Wednesday, August 28, a dozen other hostages were already released following face-to-face meetings between Taliban and South Korean representatives. The first three women freed arrived in a village of Qala-e-Kazi in a single car, their heads covered with red and green shawls. Red Cross officials quickly took them to their vehicles before leaving for the office of the Afghan Red Crescent in the town of Ghazni, witnesses explained.
The Taliban originally kidnapped 23 South Koreans, all Christian volunteers, as they traveled by bus from Kabul to the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar on July 19. In late July, the militants killed two male hostages, including the groupâ€™s 42-year-old leader Bae Hyun-kyu, a youth pastor at the hostagesâ€™ home church, and fellow Christian, Shim Sung Min, who was 29.
Two other female hostages were later released, as a "goodwill gesture" the Taliban said. The 23 hostages allegedly made their trip illegally, following in the footsteps of other South Korean Christian missionaries who say the love of Jesus Christ is for everyone, including Muslims.
Their release came after South Korea pledged to withdraw all its 200 troops by the end of the year and halt missionary activities in this staunch Muslim nation. Taliban militants apparently backed down from their demand for a prisoner exchange. Afghanistanâ€™s government had said it would not negotiate with the Taliban while South Korea made clear to the group it was not in a position to free Taliban prisoners from Afghan jails.
The release came as an apparent answer to prayers of the hostages' Saemmul Presbyterian Church in Bundang, near Seoul, which organized prayer vigils. Millions of Christians around the world also prayed for the release of the hostages, said the World Council of Church in an earlier message to BosNewsLife.
"Members of the hostagesâ€™ families [were] meeting at the church on a daily basis,â€ said WCC General Secretary Samuel Kobia, who visited the church. They arrived in the morning and often stayed until 10 p.m. local time.
"While at the church, dozens of people, many of them youngsters, assisted the families by cooking meals and offering mutual support and encouragement," he added. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Eric Leijenaar and Stefan J. Bos. BosNewsLife Anti-Terrorism Task Force: Covering the Threats of Our Time. Developing Story. Check for more updates).
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