Options are running out for the group of 21 remaining Korean Christian hostages - who have entered their third week of captivity. Negotiations are stalled and Afghanistan has publicly refused to submit to the Taliban’s main demand – the release of rebel prisoners in exchange for the captives.
Exhausted and powerless, the families are discussing the possibility of heading to either or both the United States and Afghanistan to urge the two nations to bolster their efforts to secure the release of the hostages.
“We still lay our hope on the government’s negotiations. But we are so desperate,” said Cha Sung-min, the representative of the families and the brother of abductee Cha Hye-jin, according to The Korea Times Thursday.
“We want to visit both Kabul and Washington to directly seek their help,” he said.
Cha acknowledges that travel to Afghanistan may be impossible after South Korea asked Afghanistan to ban all its citizen from entering the country. The families have informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the South Korean government about their intention, but the government has not yet given a clear reply.
“If the visit to Afghanistan is unavailable, we may choose the U.S.,” Cha noted.
Family members of the Korean hostages are suffering along with the victims in Afghanistan, with reports of parents passing out and being hospitalized from the emotional strain.
One hostage’s family member, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “I try to sleep so that I don’t pass out, but I just can’t sleep. I’m bearing so much, just thinking about my kidnapped child,” according to Chosun Ilbo - South Korea’s largest newspaper.
Family members have dark circles under their eyes and carry weary faces as they take turns with vigils each night. Stress is especially high each time a deadline approaches.
“They are suffering from severe indigestion and heart pains due to the continued mental trauma,” said Dr. Cha Byeong-ho, who is looking after the health of the families at the hostages’ home church in Bundang, just south of the South Korean capital Seoul, according to Chosun Ilbo.
If the families decide to make the trip, they want to make the visit before the two-day summit meeting between Afghan president Hamid Karzai and President Bush starting on Sunday.
The two leaders will discuss strategies on how to stabilize the war-torn country as Afghanistan faces the worst level of violence over the past 18 months since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001. Solutions to the hostage crisis are also expected to be discussed.
“We plead with the U.S. government for help: the kidnapped went there to share love, but they are having days like hell. We believe the Bush administration will act for humanitarianism,” read the letter submitted by the families to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday, according to The Korea Times.
A South Korean delegation arrived Thursday in Washington to appeal for U.S. help in the hostage crisis. South Korea expressed hope Friday that advancements will be made during this weekend’s summit to win the release of the hostages, according to Reuters.
South Korea said it has conveyed to the Taliban that it is virtually powerless in granting the rebels’ demand to free prisoners held by the Afghan government and U.S. forces.
“Through our contacts, our foremost goal is to make it clear that there is a limit as to what our government can do to meet their demands of releasing the prisoners," presidential spokesman Chun Ho-sun told reporters Friday, according to Reuters.
The Afghan and U.S. governments have both taken a hard-line stance against the Taliban, adamantly opposing to give into the demands of what they call terrorism.
Richard Boucher, assistant U.S. secretary of state for South and Central Asia, had said the use of military force to free the hostages had not been ruled out.
"All pressures need to be applied to the Taliban to get them to release these hostages," Boucher said Thursday. "There are things that we say, things that others say, things that are done and said within Afghan society, as well as potential military pressures."
It has been over two weeks since the group of 23 South Korean Christians was kidnapped by Taliban militants in Afghanistan’s insurgency-prone Ghazni province. The church group was on its way to provide free medical services to poor Afghan citizens when their bus was hijacked on July 19. The leader of the aid group, Bae Hyung-kyu, was found dead last Wednesday with 10 bullet holes in his body. This past Monday, the second victim Shim Sung-min was killed.
The kidnapping of the 23 Korean Christians is the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.