Ex-hostages say Taliban beat them for refusing to convert

SEOUL (AFP) – Some of the South Korean Christian aid workers held hostage by Afghanistan’s Taliban said they were beaten for refusing to convert to Islam and protecting female captives, a hospital chief said Monday.We found through medical checks that some male hostages were beaten,” Cha Seung-Gyun told reporters after the 19 freed aid workers — 14 women and five men — underwent examinations at a hospital outside Seoul.They had returned home Sunday after six weeks in captivity.

“They said they were beaten at first for refusing to take part in Islamic prayers or for rejecting a demand to convert,” Cha said.

The disclosure was likely to increase public sympathy for the ex-hostages, mostly in their 20s and 30s, following increasing criticism of what was seen as a reckless trip to a war-torn devoutly Islamic nation.

President Roh Moo-Hyun on Monday ordered that the former captives repay some of the costs of their rescue, which followed a deal between South Korean government negotiators in Afghanistan and the hardline Islamic insurgents.

The hospital chief said two male hostages, Je Chang-Hee and Song Byung-Woo, were beaten or threatened with death whey they refused to move out of a dugout shelter and leave some of their female colleagues behind.

But Cha said medical checks on the women showed no signs of rape, and they did not report having been sexually assaulted.

The aid workers repeatedly apologised after arriving home early Sunday. They were taken to Sam Anyang General Hospital south of the capital for check-ups.

Cha said the men had fully recovered and no longer showed external signs of their beatings. He did not say how many of the hostages had been assaulted.

A pastor from the Saem-Mul Presbyterian church which organised the ill-fated mission said Sunday that some male hostages had been “severely beaten” for refusing to embrace Islam.

The pastor, Park Eun-Jo, also said some of the women had been “at risk of being sexually assaulted.”

Cha said six or seven female hostages showed symptoms of insomnia and depression, and expressed worries about their lives after being released from hospital.

“Some patients require a close look and intensive care and treatment,” he said, adding they are still suffering from shock after learning upon their release that two male hostages were murdered in July.

The ex-hostages need about two weeks of treatment, he said.

The church group undertook the trip in defiance of foreign ministry warnings. Before departure it was pictured posing with an airport notice warning against travel to the Central Asian nation.

“By ignoring the government’s warning and rashly carrying out a mission in a politically unstable Muslim country, the captives have laid a great burden on their country,” JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said.

“By violating international principles and directly negotiating with a terrorist group, our country has invited censure from other countries. Korean churches cannot escape the scathing criticism that their aggressive missionary work put the lives of several innocent young people in dire jeopardy.”

The group was abducted on July 19. The Taliban murdered two men last month to press their demands that some Taliban prisoners be freed in exchange for the Koreans, a condition rejected by Kabul.

After starting talks with Seoul officials, the Taliban on August 13 released two women. They freed the remainder of the hostages last Wednesday and Thursday.

Seoul agreed in return to withdraw its 210 non-combat troops by year-end, as previously scheduled, and to stop trips by its missionaries to Afghanistan.

It has denied foreign media reports that a ransom was paid to the Taliban.

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