Thu, Jul 26, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Taliban shoots S Korea hostage

EIGHT RELEASED The Taliban shot one male hostage, reiterated their demands of releasing eight Taliban prisoners by 1am local time and released eight S Koreans

AGENCIES , KABUL, KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN AND SEOUL

Afghanistan's Taliban killed one of the 23 Korean hostages yesterday after Kabul failed to free Taliban prisoners, a spokesman for the group said, adding insurgents would kill more if their demands were not met.

"Since Kabul's administration did not listen to our demand and did not free our prisoners, the Taliban shot dead a male Korean hostage," Qari Mohammad Yousuf said by phone from an unknown location.

Eight of 23 South Korean hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan were then released late yesterday, Yonhap news agency said, quoting an unidentified government official in Seoul.

A presidential spokesman could not immediately confirm the report.

The hostages were to be moved to a safe zone and then flown back to South Korea after a medical check-up, Yonhap said.

The Taliban movement in Afghanistan set 2030 GMT yesterday as the last deadline for its South Korean hostages, a spokesman said after reporting the group had shot dead one of the 23 captives.

"If the administration of Kabul is not ready to release our hostages, then by 1am [local time] the rest of the hostages will be killed," Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said by telephone from an unknown location. "That time is the last deadline."

Taliban insurgents had threatened to kill some of the South Korean hostages they are holding by yesterday afternoon if eight Taliban prisoners were not released by the Afghan government.

"The deadline has already expired. We will kill some of the Koreans today by 2pm [0930 GMT] if we don't see any developments in the negotiations," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said by telephone.

Finally, the Taliban lived up to the threat.

The kidnapping of 23 aid workers by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan has sparked soul-searching in South Korea's Protestant churches, which had been highly active in sending missions abroad.

The Korean hostages, 18 of whom are women, are members of a Presbyterian church, although the government and church officials have stressed they were engaged in aid projects and not on missionary work.

The Middle East Team, a pan-Christian group, said yesterday it had decided to call off or suspend plans to send seven teams this summer to Islamic countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.

"Following the kidnapping, three teams have decided to call off their planned trips while four other groups have postponed theirs," said Dohn Kim, director of the Middle East Team.

Each team is composed of some 10 to 20 volunteers and they typically stay about 10 days doing humanitarian work.

"The incident alerted us that we should refrain from doing things with high risks," he said.

A South Korean man who was captured by Iraqi insurgents and killed in a highly publicized case in 2004 was a member of the Middle East Team, he said.

That killing caused an exodus of Korean evangelists from Iraq, he said.

In August last year Kabul expelled around 1,500 South Korean evangelical Christians who visited for a "peace festival" amid concerns that their presence could spark violence.

The Korean hostages were abducted last Thursday while traveling by bus from Kandahar to the capital, Kabul. The volunteers, mostly in their 20s and 30s, left on July 13 to work in hospitals and children's homes.

However, newspapers and concerned citizens have questioned the wisdom of Christians traveling to dangerous destinations, even for aid work.

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