Taliban Frees 2 Korean Christian Hostages

( [email protected] ) Aug 13, 2007 01:29 PM EDT
The Taliban handed over two South Korean hostages to officials from the international Red Cross on Monday.
Two of the released South Korean hostages are seen after they were released by Taliban in Ghazni province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday, Aug. 13, 2007. Two South Korean women hostages kidnapped by Taliban militants in mid-July were handed over to officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday, the first significant breakthrough in a hostage drama now more than three weeks old. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

The Taliban handed over two South Korean hostages to officials from the international Red Cross on Monday.

Two weeping women moved from a gray Toyota Corolla driven by an Afghan elder to two waiting Red Cross SUVs, according to The Associated Press. The two women were said to be ill to the point where their lives were in danger.

Despite earlier skepticism, captors came through with their promise to release the two hostages after several false promises and reports over the weekend that the hostages would be or have been released.

The Taliban called the release of the hostages a “goodwill gesture” towards the Korean people and officials, according to Agence France-Presse.

The two Korean women are the first hostages to be released since the Taliban abducted the group of 23 South Korean Christian volunteers on July 19. The Taliban has killed two male hostages since the abduction.

Korean officials and Taliban leaders have held face-to-face talks on the release of the hostages for four days at the Afghan Red Crescent office, which is associated with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in the Ghazni province.

Current South Korea-Taliban talks appear to be one of the last hopes with the U.S.-Afghan governments taking a hard-line stance against a prisoner swap.

The rebels are still demanding a prisoner-hostage exchange for the remaining 19 Koreans. Both Kabul and Washington, however, have remained adamant about not giving into terrorism and stated that the release of Taliban prisoners is not an option.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was criticized by the United States and other Western countries earlier this year for giving into terrorism after he released five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian reporter in March. He had vowed that the exchange would be a one-time deal.

The 23 South Korean volunteers were abducted nearly a month ago in insurgency-plagued Ghazni province. Out of the aid group, 16 are females, according to AFP. The church group was on its way to provide free medical services to poor Afghan citizens when their bus was hijacked.

Since their kidnapping, two male hostages have been killed. The leader of the aid group, Bae Hyung-kyu, was the first victim, found dead July 25 with 10 bullet holes in his body. The body of the second victim, 29-year-old Shim Sung-min, was found July 30.

The kidnapping of the 23 Korean Christians was the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.