Reeling from the discovery of two murdered hostages who were taken captive with their Christian aid group 13 days ago, South Korea is pleading with the governments of the United States and Afghanistan to cooperate with the Taliban.
Another in a series of deadlines to meet Taliban demands passed Wednesday morning. without any new information on the status of the remaining 21 South Korean aid workers.
The Taliban has threatened to kill the remaining 18 women and 3 men from Seoul's Saemmul Presbyterian Church if Afghanistan does not release 24 Taliban prisoners. The next victim "might be a man or a woman. It might be one. It might be two, four. It might be all of them," Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who says he is a Taliban spokesman, told the Associated Press.
On July 25, the Taliban killed 42-year-old pastor Bae Hyun-kyu. Five days later, they killed another man, Shim Sung-min, 29. The Taliban says the two men were killed as a result of the "insincere attitude" of negotiators from Afghanistan and South Korea, reported The Korea Times.
Since the bodies were found, Afghanistanalready concerned about its international imageis caught between the increasingly urgent requests of South Korean officials and relatives of the hostages and U.S. pressure not to concede to terrorist demands.
"The government is well aware of how the international community deals with these kinds of abduction cases, but it also believes that it would be worthwhile to use flexibility in the cause of saving the precious lives of those still in captivity, and is appealing to the international community to do so," Cheon Ho-seon, a spokesman for South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, told TheNew York Times.
South Korean officials have been in contact with the Taliban, but are still hoping for cooperation with the U.S. and Afghanistan.
However, the U.S. is discouraging such hope. "It remains U.S. policy not to make concessions to terrorists," Tom Casey, deputy spokesman of the Department of State, said Tuesday. "Again, the policy as written over the past 20 years or so is to not make concessions to terrorists, and that remains our view."
Afghanistan says it will not cooperate with the Taliban's demands despite South Korea's requests. Several nations, including the U.S., criticized Afghanistan for releasing Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian hostage last March.
Families of the hostages and other South Koreans picketed Wednesday outside the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, holding signs displaying pictures of the hostages and pleas for the U.S. to cooperate with the Taliban, Voice of America reported. The radio news program reported that families are requesting negotiation without military action due to the possible risk for the hostages.
Meanwhile, the Afghan military dropped warning messages on the area where the hostages are being held, telling of an upcoming military action. The leaflets warned civilians to move to a safe area, but did not contain details of when the operation would take place. According to the Kiev Post, the military denied rumors of a rescue attempt and said the action was not related to the hostage situation.
South Korea says it will continue negotiations with the Taliban. In the meantime, the Korea Times reports that the country sent food and medical supplies to the area where the hostages are being held. Officials in Seoul say the hostages received the supplies.
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Our coverage of the hostage situation includes "Afghanistan Kidnappers Kill Hostage as South Korea Debates Mission Work" (July 26) and "Taliban Kidnaps South Korean Christians" (July 20).
Christianity Today's March 2006 cover story examined the explosion of South Korean missions.