No health problems for SKorean ex-hostages

SEOUL (AFP) – The South Koreans who were held hostage for six weeks by Afghanistan’s Taliban have no serious health problems, a hospital official said Monday.

The 19 Christian aid workers arrived home Sunday after Seoul government negotiators reached a deal for their release, and were taken to Sam Anyang General Hospital south of the capital for checks.

The group, holding portraits of two murdered fellow hostages, looked solemn and strained when they appeared briefly before the cameras at the airport, and some of the women sobbed.

The Taliban had threatened several times to kill more hostages unless their demands were met.

“Initial checks were conducted yesterday and today,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Most patients are in stable condition and have no serious health problems. Further checks will be conducted, along with psychiatric treatment, and access to them is restricted for two weeks.”

The official said there were no particular signs that some had been severely beaten.

A pastor from the Saem-Mul Presbyterian church at Bundang on the outskirts of Seoul, which organised the ill-fated mission, said Sunday that some hostages had been “severely beaten” for refusing to embrace Islam.

He said two men were threatened with death for refusing to convert and some of the women had been “at risk of being sexually assaulted.”

There was no immediate confirmation of his claims.

Since the last release late Thursday, public criticism of the church has intensified over what was seen as a reckless trip in defiance of foreign ministry warnings.

“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 newspaer 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.”

Yu Kyeong-Sik, spokesman for the group, apologised repeatedly on arrival in Seoul. “We owe the country and the people a great debt,” he said.

Guerrillas posing as passengers abducted 16 women and seven men on July 19 from their bus in insurgency-plagued southern Afghanistan.

The extremists murdered two men last month to press their demands to exchange the Koreans for Taliban prisoners, a condition rejected by the Kabul government.

After starting talks in Afghanistan with South Korean officials, the Taliban on August 13 released two women. They freed the remainder last Wednesday and Thursday.

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