South Korean hostages recount abduction

KABUL, Afghanistan – Newly freed South Korean church workers apologized to their government Friday for causing trouble in Afghanistan by being kidnapped by the Taliban for six weeks.Some fell to the ground in shock when they were told that two members of their group had been killed by their captors, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

“I can’t sleep due to concerns that we caused so much trouble,” Yoo Kyung-sik, 55, said in an interview on South Korean television. “I feel very sorry.”

Yoo and Suh Myung-hwa, 29, spoke to South Korean media in an interview in their hotel in the Afghan capital before leaving Afghanistan with the other hostages on a flight to Dubai. Other foreign media were barred from the hotel by guards posted at the door.

Outside the gates of the Kabul airport, a suicide car bomber targeting a patrol of German soldiers killed two Afghan soldiers and wounded 10 others, officials and witnesses said.

A German soldier was wounded in the blast, the country’s army command said, and Belgium’s defense minister said four Belgian soldiers were slightly wounded. Some 300 Belgian soldiers oversee security at the airport.

In eastern Afghanistan, a barrage of rockets missed a U.S.-led coalition base but hit houses in the nearby village of Babul, killing 10 civilians and wounding seven, said Abdul Sabor Allayar, a deputy provincial police chief. A number of houses were destroyed in the attack, he said.

The 19 South Koreans were taken by the Taliban on July 19, along with four other church workers, and released on Wednesday and Thursday after their government repeated its pledge to withdraw its 200 troops from Afghanistan before year’s end, and vowed to prevent missionaries from traveling to the country.

The insurgents released two of the church workers earlier this month.

“While kidnapped, all I could think about was staying alive,” Suh said in the television interview. “I didn’t feel any pain under captivity, I guess because I was in a panic the whole time, but now that the tension is gone my body aches all over,” she said.

South Korean TV showed the former hostages tearfully reuniting and hugging in the hotel.

The group had ignored warnings by their government against travel to Afghanistan. The government has been under intense pressure to bring them home safely and has faced criticism for negotiating with the captors.

Yoo said the group was traveling on a chartered bus in southern Afghanistan when two local men got on board with the permission of the driver, who said they were not dangerous. A half-hour later, the men fired shots and stopped the bus, Yoo said.

Yoo also said he and fellow hostages were first kept in a cellar. Later they were moved into a farmhouse. Six days later, they were separated into groups of three or four and kept on the move.

He said his group was moved 12 times, usually on motorbikes or on foot.

The Taliban claimed the South Koreans were missionaries — a charge denied by the government in Seoul and the hostages’ relatives, who said they were doing aid work such as helping in hospitals.

A senior Afghan official close to the negotiations alleged Friday the South Koreans also paid a ransom.

“Definitely there was money but I don’t know how much. I do not want to lie,” said the official on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the topic.

South Korean presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon dismissed the claim, which other Afghan officials have also aired in recent days.

“There is no additional agreement other than what has been made public,” he said.

In Washington, the State Department welcomed the hostages’ release. When asked if South Korea’s negotiations with the Taliban set a dangerous precedent, spokesman Tom Casey refrained from directly criticizing Seoul.

“I’d simply reiterate that the long-standing U.S. policy is … not to make concessions to terrorists,” he said.

Afghanistan has seen a series of hostage-takings this years. The Taliban are still holding a German engineer and four Afghans kidnapped a day before the South Koreans.

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